WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday the House Natural Resources Committee held a long and grueling markup session on the Puerto Rico Status Act, a bill outlining the process by which the people of Puerto Rico would decide the islands’ future status and how the transition to whichever status chosen would be carried out.
Twenty-nine amendments were debated by committee members who ultimately voted 20-25 to advance the bill, with every Republican voting against the bill except Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, Jenniffer González-Colón, a non-voting member of Congress and pro-statehood supporter who is also a member of the GOP.
HAPPENING NOW — @NRDems markup on the Puerto Rico Status Act.
— Pablo Manríquez (@PabloReports) July 20, 2022
Reps. Jesus “Chuy” García (D-IL) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) voted against advancing the bill, surprising many political watchers who foresaw the bill advancing out of committee along party lines save González-Colón’s vote in favor, which was expected.
García explained in a lengthy tweet thread his reason for defecting from the bill, which ultimately amounted to what García believes to be a lack of transparency in the process.
? This afternoon, I voted against H.R. 8393, the Puerto Rico Status Act in today’s @NRDems Resources markup.
— Congressman Chuy García (@RepChuyGarcia) July 20, 2022
An early signal of Democratic defection on the bill came when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) removed her name from the bill before it was filed by committee chair Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-NM).
Ocasio-Cortez declined to comment to Latino Rebels on Tuesday about why she had abandoned the bill that she had helped negotiate for months with other Puerto Rican principals in the House including Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and Darren Soto (D-FL), the sponsors of two earlier, competing bills — Velázquez’s Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act and Soto’s Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act— for which the Puerto Rico Status Act is meant to act as a compromise.
“She’s on the record saying that the people of Puerto Rico need to have the legislation in the language they understand, with enough time to understand all the implications and in a context that can be understood,” said Federico A de Jesús, a senior adviser to Power 4 Puerto Rico, a coalition of diaspora leaders and allies advocating for Puerto Ricans in the islands and abroad.
In a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Friday, Melissa Mark-Viverito, former speaker of the New York City Council and an advocate for the rights of fellow Puerto Ricans, called for greater transparency in the legislative process concerning the bill.
“In addition to skipping over formal hearings, many in Puerto Rico and the diaspora in the United States are also alarmed at: 1) the scant details in the annexation (i.e., ‘statehood’) option, 2) the lack of clarity on U.S. citizenship under free association, and 3) the imposition of unacceptable conditions under independence,” Mark-Viverito wrote.
So, I wrote a letter to @SpeakerPelosi: "I urge you not to let the bill proceed to a committee or House floor vote w/o prior formal public congressional hearings taking place accessible in a Spanish-language format & that address crucial details."#NoVoteB4Hearings #PuertoRico pic.twitter.com/DCY6uYV1b8
— Melissa Mark-Viverito (@MMViverito) July 19, 2022
“I urge you not to let the bill proceed to a committee or House floor vote without prior formal public congressional hearings taking place that are accessible in a Spanish-language format and that address crucial details in this new legislation introduced only a few days ago,” she told Pelosi in the letter.
On Monday, the House committee published a version of the Puerto Rico Status Act written in what Grijalva described as “exact, legal Spanish.”
Grijalva ultimately rejected efforts by Puerto Rican members of Congress and Beltway lobbyists to hold public hearings in Washington, D.C.
“We’ve been to Puerto Rico and heard from the people there,” Grijalva said. “Who in Puerto Rico have we not heard from yet?”
In the world of Beltway lobbyists, committee hearings can be top-dollar opportunities for clients seeking to elevate their profiles by testifying before Congress. But last week Grijalva made clear he was unwilling to use his committee’s resources toward that end.
“We need to get it done by the end of this month if we’re going to do it,” Grijalva told Latino Rebels.
It’s unclear if the Puerto Rico Status Act will get a vote on the House floor during the current Congress, as the defection of key progressive Democrats before and during the markup process likely hurt the bill’s chances.
While the bill is seen by many as a messaging bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is unlikely to bring it to a floor vote if she thinks it will fail.
Ocasio-Cortez told Latino Rebels last month that even if the Puerto Rico Status Act is ultimately a messaging bill, the binding resolution it would create to decolonize Puerto Rico is an important first step.
“We have a first draft right now after 124 years of colonization, and so that’s why my message to the cynics in this process is: Independent of any short-term political prospects, we need to figure this out … so that when the political window opens, whether that’s between now and September, or whether it’s another time in the future, we will have this ready to move,” said Ocasio-Cortez.
Pablo Manríquez is the Capitol Hill correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports