The first round of the Democratic primary debates is over and candidates had the opportunity to outline their platforms and voice their policy priorities to the nation, but Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory and plans and hopes for the future has not yet entered the discussion.
While popular issues relating to the economy, healthcare and climate change pose significant importance to Puerto Rico, the debate over the island’s political status continues to define its policy objectives and political affiliations.
Of the 22 Democratic candidates, there are two primary positions: those who are pro-statehood and those who are noncommittal. Candidates in the non-committal camp tend to claim that they are waiting for greater clarity for Puerto Ricans about their preference, not recognizing the many plebiscites held over the years that demonstrated support for statehood, the clear rejection of the status quo, and general confusion over a “Commonwealth” option that many in Puerto Rico have sought to include on plebiscite ballots despite their widespread rejection by federal officials due to Constitutional and other reasons.
Governor Jay Inslee (WA) – “I’ve always supported statehood for Puerto Rico and DC. People have got to have representation.”
Former Representative Beto O’Rourke (TX) – “They are fellow citizens. The only way I see for ourselves to solve the problem of a second class status for the citizens of Puerto Rico is to ensure that they are a state, (that) they have two senators who can vote and fight each day for their rights and protections.”
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang (NY) – “Puerto Rico should be a state–they function as one right now without the political rights and bankruptcy protection. We must not only offer them political equality, but help them rebuild their economy and infrastructure–it will take time but that’s what Americans do.”
Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam (FL) – “The people of Puerto Rico have overwhelmingly voted to become a state. There is no good reason for them to continue to be treated as second-class citizens.”
Representative Seth Moulton (MA) – Moulton’s campaign website calls for “giving all Americans representation by granting statehood to Puerto Rico and D.C.”
Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI) – In 2015, Rep. Gabbard cosponsored H.R. 727, Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Process Act, but she has made no public statements on the issue.
Representative Tim Ryan (OH) – In 2015, Rep. Ryan cosponsored H.R. 727, Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Process Act, but he has made no public statements on the issue.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (NY), Former Representative John Delaney (MD) and Spiritual Author Marianne Williamson (TX) – All three candidates support statehood for Puerto Rico, according to the Washington Post.
Waiting for a Stronger Expression of Support from Puerto Rico before Endorsing Statehood:
Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) – “There must be a U.S. congressionally-sanctioned and binding referendum where the Puerto Rican people would be able to decide on whether to become a state, an independent country, or to reform the current Commonwealth agreement. This issue should be decided by the Puerto Rican people.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) – “Whatever Puerto Rico decides to do, we respect the will of the Puerto Rican people to determine what is to their own best advantage, tax status, etc. If Puerto Rico favors U.S. statehood, we, as American citizens, would happily welcome Puerto Rico as the 51st state, with open arms and open hearts.”
Governor Steve Bullock (MT) – “This decision should be left to Puerto Ricans to decide,” Bullock told The Post. “I support the right of Puerto Rico’s residents to decide for themselves their future relationship with the United States.”
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (IN) – “If they want it.”
Former Secretary of Housing Julian Castro (TX) – “Our nation succeeds when more Americans can participate in democracy. Important first steps: Eliminate Electoral College…DC statehood & self-determination for Puerto Rico.”
Senators Michael Bennet (CO), Cory Booker (NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Former Governor John Hickenlooper (CO) – They all support allowing Puerto Ricans to choose whether they want to join the union, according to the Washington Post.
Former Vice President Joe Biden (DE) – “I have always found Puerto Rico’s current political status as something very bizarre. My word of advice to you, and all Puerto Ricans, is that you continue to fight hard until you reach your goal of equality, and we shall act.”
Senator Kamala Harris (CA) has not revealed a position on statehood for Puerto Rico.