At a press conference in Puerto Rico on Friday, Congressman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) spoke out in favor of statehood for the U.S. territory. “I want to be very clear: I’m in favor of Puerto Rico statehood,” he said. “If people are willing to sit down, put partisanship aside, and do what is best for the people of Puerto Rico, we will have success.”
Bishop is the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, the Congressional committee in charge of Puerto Rico. Congress, under the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution, has complete power to make all laws and decisions about Puerto Rico.
Bishop also said that he wants to see “a vibrant economy and a stable government” in Puerto Rico. While some news sources are reporting this as a condition of Bishop’s support, it is not clear that this is what the Utah congressman is saying.
Previously, NPR’s Laura Sullivan tweeted this statement: “Cong. Rob Bishop says it’s time for Puerto Rico to become a state. ‘They are Americans. They have a history of patriotism. They are a clear part of the country.’”
Over the weekend, he broadcast a statement saying, ““I am supportive of statehood. I think it is a solution that is long overdue.”
“I also realize there are certain steps to get there,” Bishop said about statehood. “They are not necessarily easy steps and what happens to the financial stability of this island is one of those key critical components.”
No metrics for vibrancy or stability were given, and no timetable has been suggested. It seems likely that Bishop’s words reflect the frustration Bishop has been expressing about the recent activity around financial plans in Puerto Rico. Politico interpreted Bishop’s statement as requiring better cooperation between Puerto Rico government and the PROMESA fiscal oversight board.
“As part of the push,” Poliotico reported, “González-Colón will sponsor legislation that would create a path to statehood, which Bishop committed to bring up for a vote before his panel. The two also announced a hearing over the summer on the oversight board, which recently approved a new debt crisis recovery plan that has drawn furious opposition from commonwealth officials.
Local leaders, however, responded quickly to the implication that Puerto Rico isn’t welcome as a state until it’s solvent.
“Statehood is the only way that Puerto Rico can get out of this economic situation,” said Jennifer González, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting congressional representative in response. “If we had the votes in the House and the Senate, many of the fiscal and financial issues that we are facing would be in the past.”
Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares responded that statehood “cannot be conditioned on fiscal or economic considerations.”
Of the 32 U.S. territories which have become States in the past, many had financial problems before they attained statehood, and all became more prosperous after their admission.
Bishop also spoke about the importance of cooperation and education within Congress, suggesting, according to El Nuevo Dia, that the House had a better understanding of the situation than the Senate. He spoke of “the case of Utah, which should have been made a state 40 years before it was actually made a state. Sometimes you have to pass some preconditions for Washington to accept it.”
Utah was required to make polygamy illegal before it could become a state. Other preconditions have been set by Congress in the past for territories wanting to become states.