House Dem Whip Steny Hoyer’s Statement on Puerto Rico

 

I was disappointed that the Justice Department chose to interfere in Puerto Rico’s planned referendum on statehood.  By doing so, the Trump Administration is demonstrating exactly why a majority of Puerto Ricans voted five years ago for a change in status – they want to determine for themselves the future of the island, including whether to join the union as our fifty-first state, not be told what to do by a federal government in which they currently have no voting representation.  I will continue to stand up in Congress for the people of Puerto Rico, who are American citizens, to ensure that they can choose the status they believe is best for them and their future, and I urge the Justice Department to release funds to the Puerto Rican government as promised in 2014.

Rep. Hoyer, who is the second highest ranking Democrat in the House, tweeted “I was disappointed that @TheJusticeDept chose to interfere in Puerto Rico’s planned referendum on statehood,” with a link to his statement.

Rep.Hoyer has a history of support for Puerto Rico. He has, as Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana J. Boente did in a recent tweet, referred to Puerto Rico as “an integral part of the United States.”  In 1998, he explained his interest in Puerto Rico in a statement on the floor of the House of Representatives:

Since 1985 I have served on the Helsinki Commission, which was charged since 1976 to oversee the implementation of the Helsinki Final Act. Within that act it said that the international community ought to respect the self-determination of peoples.

It is one of the most troubling issues that confronts the international community and the emerging democracies around the world. . . . Always, always, always the United States is on the side of those who aspire to make their own decisions….[I]t is important that this Congress express at home, within our own Nation, that same conviction on behalf of self-determination that we express around the world.

On April 13, the Department of Justice sent a letter to Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, calling for changes to the ballot proposed by the Puerto Rican government for the June 11th plebiscite on Puerto Rico’s political status.  The original draft ballot contained several elements that the Department of Justice questioned, including a description of Free Association that the Department feared might be confused with “enhanced commonwealth,” an unconstitutional option championed by Puerto Rico’s “commonwealth” party, as well as the inclusion of Puerto Rico’s current status as a U.S. territory.

The Justice Department’s ruling on the plebiscite ballot was required by Public Law 113-76, which called for the U.S. Department of Justice to determine that the language on the plebiscite ballot is “not incompatible with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States” in order to receive federal funding.  Justice Department approval was deemed vital for a fair process in light of the history of confusion caused by having undefined “Commonwealth” options on past ballots.  The provision was supported by then-Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR) and championed by Puerto Rican born Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY).

Puerto Rico’s government has produced a new ballot reflecting the DOJ’s concerns.

Updated 4/25/17 2:30 pm

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