The Obama Administration Tuesday rejected Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden’s request that it testify at a Committee hearing on Puerto Rico’s political status plebiscite last Election Day and the Administration’s response.
A White House official reportedly gave the Committee no explanation of the Administration’s decision. But the reason seemed to be that the Administration did not want to embarrass Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla (‘commonwealth’ party).
The plebiscite held at the time of Garcia’s election opposed continuing territory status, for which he urged votes, by 54% and sought statehood among the possible alternatives, which he opposed, by 61.2%.
Garcia and other commonwealthers were unhappy when President Obama’s spokesman recognized these results. They had mixed feelings when the President’s Budget proposed another vote, recognizing that their opposition to the plebiscite and its results would likely lead to stalemate on the issue in Congress.
The White House initiative would provide $2.5 million for a plebiscite on an option or options proposed by Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission to the extent approved by the U.S. Justice Department that would both “resolve” the issue and not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.
These conditions exclude the ‘commonwealth’ party’s new “commonwealth status” proposal and the current territory status, often misleadingly also called “commonwealth.”
Territory status would be excluded because Puerto Ricans would have a right to petition for statehood or nationhood as long as the islands remain a territory. And Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status reported in 2011 that the islands would remain subject to Congress’ broad powers to govern territories under any “Commonwealth” arrangement.
The party’s “commonwealth status” proposal calls for the U.S. to be bound to an arrangement under which Puerto Rico could nullify Federal laws and court jurisdiction and enter into international arrangements as if it were a sovereign nation. The U.S. would have to provide greater economic benefits than at present and continue to grant citizenship.
The Obama Administration reiterating what it has said about the plebiscite and “commonwealth” would embarrass Garcia, who just had Status Task Force Co-Chair Tony West stay with him at his official residence and recently hired the firm of the husband of a White House staff member who has worked on Puerto Rico matters to lobby against the statehood that Puerto Ricans voted for at $50,000 per month.
As Justice Department Co-Chair of Obama’s Puerto Rico Status Task Force, West was the likely witness for the hearing.
The Obama Administration’s slight of new Democratic Chairman Wyden and his Committee as well as Puerto Ricans is unprecedented. Administrations routinely supply witnesses for congressional hearings, and every past administration within memory has done so for hearings on the issue that Obama’s Puerto Rico Task Force recognized is the territory’s most important.