The Garcia Padilla Administration’s lead Federal affairs official issued a government news release today denying that the U.S. Department of Justice must approve the option or options for the plebiscite on Puerto Rico’s ultimate political status authorized by a new Federal law.
The assertion is contradicted by a joint statement of the heads of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives committees responsible for the law and a report by the House committee that the Senate chairwoman embraced in putting the legislation before the Senate.
It also contradicts President Barrack Obama’s proposal for the law.
Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) Director Juan Hernandez Mayoral’s contention is primarily important because it is now up to Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission to propose terms for the plebiscite and the territory’s Legislative Assembly to pass legislation for it. Appointees of Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla can block action in the Commission and other members of the territory’s “Commonwealth” party control the legislature.
Additionally, the party’s “Commonwealth status” proposal has been rejected by the Justice Department in the Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton Administrations as being impossible for constitutional and other reasons.
Hernandez wrote that the statement last week by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) did not include the presidentially proposed requirement for the Commission’s proposed plebiscite status options and explanatory materials to be found by the Justice Department to not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.
The congressional leaders’ statement in fact, however, specifically said that the House committee report’s terms apply, and the House report explicitly requires Justice Department approval.
The Federal plebiscite authorization also requires that the plebiscite be on options that can “resolve” the question of Puerto Rico’s status. This requirement precludes Puerto Rico’s current territory status, sometimes also misleadingly called “Commonwealth,” from being an option. As long as Puerto Rico is a territory, Puerto Ricans can petition for statehood or nationhood, so territory status cannot “resolve” the issue.
The Justice Department requirement was proposed by President Obama’s office because of the “Commonwealth” party’s impossible “Commonwealth” proposal. Congressional leaders agreed because of it.
Congressional committee leaders of both national political parties have also found the “Commonwealth” proposal to be impossible.
Under the proposal, the U.S. would be permanently bound to an arrangement under which Puerto Rico could veto the application of Federal laws, limit Federal court authority, and enter into international agreements and organizations as if the territory were a sovereign nation.
The U.S. would also be required to grant Puerto Rico a new subsidy and most Federal land in the territory as well as to continue to grant all current assistance to Puerto Ricans, free access to any shipments from Puerto Rico, and U.S. citizenship to islanders.
Although Governor Garcia publicly supported Obama’s plebiscite proposal, there have been reports that PRFAA lobbyists and Hernandez’s brother who heads the “Commonwealth” party’s status committee raised questions in Congress that undermined the proposal.
Two of the members of Congress closest to the “Commonwealth” party also spoke critically of the proposal, Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).
But the proposal was championed by: Puerto Rico’s representative to the Federal Government, statehood party President Pedro Pierluisi, who has a seat in the U.S. House with a vote only in committees; senior House Appropriations Committee member Jose Serrano (D-NY), who was born in Puerto Rico; House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Ranking Minority Member Chakkah Fattah (D-PA); Senate territories committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR); House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD); Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV); House Appropriations Committee member and Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL); and Mikulski, among others of both parties.
Obama proposed the plebiscite because Garcia and the commonwealthers who were narrowly elected with him in 2012 to control Puerto Rico’s legislature opposed Federal action to implement the results of a status plebiscite under local law held along with the elections.
The vote rejected Puerto Rico’s territory status and overwhelmingly chose statehood by a vote of 61.2% among the possible alternatives. Garcia supported the current status in the plebiscite, although he argued that Puerto Rico is not subject to congressional territory governing authority as held by the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Justice Department.
Garcia and some other commonwealthers primarily objected to the vote, however, because it did not include their party’s “Commonwealth status” proposal.
Other commonwealthers, though, supported the plebiscite’s option of nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end. It received 33.3% of the vote.
Independence was chosen by 4.5% of the vote.
In 2012, Garcia ran on a platform of having a local government assembly on status if the Federal government did not act on the issue in 2013.
When it was clear that the Federal plebiscite authorization would become law just two and a half weeks after 2013, Garcia said that he would propose a status resolution process based on his 2012 platform as well as on the Federal law. He did not elaborate but said that he would detail the process soon.
Commonwealthers have proposed a local status assembly. Some hope that this course of action would avoid the Federal government ruling out their “Commonwealth status” proposal before they can try to get it accepted in Puerto Rico.
Hernandez made the false assertion about the Federal plebiscite authorization in an attack on Pierluisi, wrongly charging that Puerto Rico’s top vote getter in the 2012 elections was misleading in saying that congressional leaders had agreed to the Justice Department requirement.