WASHINGTON, D.C. — House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told reporters Tuesday that Natural Resources Committee chair Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) now leads the new Puerto Rico Status Act efforts.
“My presumption is that the committee will have done its work and have a product by July,” Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday morning.
Latino Rebels caught up with Grijalva later that afternoon in the Speaker’s Lobby of the House of Representatives for an update on the bill that has brought the two policy factions supporting statehood and self-determination bills together for the first time.
Latino Rebels: Mr. Chairman, can you give us a preview of some of the committee work that remains to be done on the Puerto Rico Status Act?
Grijalva: The committee work that’s going into it right now, Pablo, is essentially going over the recommendations that we received both online and in person.
Today [Tuesday] it goes online in Spanish so that people in Puerto Rico that want to come in on that will be able to. We had to contract the work to legal translators so that’s why the work took longer than it should have, but anyway there’s a call for additional hearings but I don’t know what exactly a hearing here in D.C. would add to the content we already have, but there is a call for that.
I think the Republicans are getting more unified in opposition now. In the past there was opposition, but now it seems to be unified, especially when you had Ranking Member [Bruce] Westerman [R-AK] come out against it.
I think it would be a long meeting, but the fact is I think we could be ready by markup in July and certainly have it on the floor. We’re leaving space open for that eventuality. I need to talk to the principals, honestly, see where they’re at. Some want more time. Some want to move on it now.
Latino Rebels: …move to a markup?
Grijalva: ….move to a markup and then onto the floor.
So that’s where we’re at right now. I don’t have a clear read on it but I’m going to talk to all the principals today and tomorrow to get some clarity.
We need to submit the bill pretty soon.
Latino Rebels: Who’s going to submit the bill?
Grijalva: I would do it if there’s still consensus around it and move it forward. I can do that. That’s not a problem. If others don’t want to be the lead on it and be the lead sponsor, I can. The mechanics of a markup are in place. The content, I think, is almost there. The points of clarification are going to be points of clarification now, and if there are points of contention, there are going to be points of contention at the markup.
Latino Rebels: So you don’t think a hearing in D.C. is necessarily the best thing for the success of the bill given Ranking Member Westerman’s stated opposition?
Grijalva: That and who haven’t we heard from? Francamente, if there is an individual or a group that we have not heard from, it would surprise me.
We’re heard from elected officials, former elected officials, community-based organizations, NGOs, businesses, I mean, the spectrum. And so who has to be heard that hasn’t been heard?
Latino Rebels: As Chairman, what feedback have you gotten so far that you think is the most significant?
Grijalva: Clarification on citizenship, tightening down that definition. Does the language need to be clarified that’s there? I’m not convinced it does, but those are the discussions I have to have.
Latino Rebels: And for our readers who are unfamiliar with the markup process, what do you anticipate from the markup?
Grijalva: If we have a consensus bill, then I think Democrats on the committee —which is the majority— are going to support it and move it on. If divisions arise and we don’t have a consensus bill, that’s going to be very difficult because we have unified opposition on the Republican side.
Latino Rebels: Senator Durbin recently cosponsored the self-determination bill that preceded the current status bill. He said he did this after he had met with Puerto Rican groups in Chicago who had convinced him on self-determination, but he also said that he was open to a bill that had more support than the self-determination. To me, it didn’t seem like Durbin was aware of the Puerto Rico Status Act. Or do you think is the responsibility of stakeholders in the House of Representatives to engage the Senate more?
Grijalva: It is. If this consensus bill goes forward, it’s a new and different approach to this discussion between opposing points of view that occurs in the Senate —and it dies there— and occurs here—and it usually dies here. This is a new approach, trying to reach some consensus and historically move it forward.
The engagement with the Senate would be around a consensus among differing points of view on what the status Puerto Rico has to be in the future. And as such, I think they would pay attention to it. That would be the engagement. If we have a product to take there with the support that the bill seems to have right now in terms of all these groups. Some support it outright, some support cautiously, and really no voiced opposition at this point.
Latino Rebels: Thank you, chairman Grijalva.
Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports