Key congressional leaders quickly endorsed President Obama’s proposal today of $2.5 million for public education and a plebiscite in Puerto Rico to resolve the question of the territory’s future political status.
The White House previously noted that a plebiscite under local law last November rejected the current territory status and chose statehood among the possible alternatives. Its proposal today recognized that advocates of an unprecedented “commonwealth” status narrowly won control of Puerto Rico’s insular government in November and would appeal to extremist opponents of equality for Puerto Ricans as Americans to block legislation in Congress based on the local plebiscite alone.
Announcing their support for a plebiscite under Federal auspices to confirm the status aspirations of Puerto Ricans were: the chairman of the U.S. Senate committee with jurisdiction over territories issues, Ron Wyden (D-OR); House of Representatives Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD); the most senior Democratic member of the House committee with jurisdiction over territories legislation, Ed Markey (MA); and Jose Serrano (D-NY), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, which will have jurisdiction over the Obama proposal, and the most senior member of Congress of Puerto Rican origin.
The Obama proposal was also embraced by Puerto Rico’s sole representative to the Federal government, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (statehood-D), who has a seat in the House of Representatives but can only vote in House committees on which he serves.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Wyden said that “The results of Puerto Rico’s November status plebiscite indicated a significant trend against the current territorial relationship and towards statehood. I am pleased that President Obama has requested an appropriation to give the voters of Puerto Rico a chance to affirm those results in a federally-sponsored plebiscite. I look forward to working with the President, my Senate colleagues, and with the Appropriations Committee to enact this request into law and to continuing the process toward resolution of Puerto Rico’s future political status.”
House Minority Whip Hoyer’s statement was: “I am pleased that President Obama has included in his budget a request to conduct the first federally-sponsored status vote in Puerto Rico’s history, responding to the November plebiscite held in Puerto Rico where voters rejected the current territory status and expressed a desire for statehood. I look forward to working with Resident Commissioner Pierluisi to enact this appropriations request into law so that the people of Puerto Rico can resolve the status question.”
House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Minority Member Markey said that “I fully support President Obama’s request for a $2.5 million appropriation to conduct a federally-sponsored political status vote in Puerto Rico, which would be the first in the territory’s history and which I hope will finally bring resolution to this longstanding issue. The President’s request is an appropriate response to the interest that a majority of the U.S. citizens who live in Puerto Rico have expressed about the desirability of changing their island’s current political status. In a vote held last November, a majority of Puerto Ricans made it clear that they did not support continuing Puerto Rico’s current status as a Commonwealth. More voters expressed a preference for statehood than for any other status option. I agree with President Obama that the appropriate next step to take following this vote is for a formal plebiscite in Puerto Rico on the various options that to resolve the Island’s political status. I pledge to work with the President, Resident Commissioner Pierluisi, and my colleagues in the House in an effort to enact this appropriation request into law.”
House Appropriations Committee Member Serrano’s statement was “I am pleased that the President’s budget has prioritized funding for a referendum on permanent and Constitutional status options for Puerto Rico. No one should object to a process that leads to a definitive statement by the Puerto Rican people on their future status—and a process that asks them to choose among only constitutionally-viable, non-colonial options. I look forward to supporting this funding request through my seat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, and later seeing it implemented in a timely manner.”
The plebiscite would be on options proposed by Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission, which has representation for all sides in balloting in Puerto Rico but finally determined by the Attorney General of the United States. The Attorney General would have to find that the ballot options and official explanations of the options were not inconsistent with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the United States.
The standard would rule out the unprecedented “commonwealth” proposal advocated by Puerto Rico’s new governor and legislature majority.
The new governor and legislature majority have proposed that Puerto Rico not be subject to the broad governing authority of Congress over territories under their new “commonwealth” status proposal. But President Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, like past Federal administrations of both national political parties, has stated that Puerto Rico would remain subject to Congress’ constitutional Territory Clause authority under any “commonwealth” unless Puerto Rico becomes a State or a nation.