The Chairman of the Republican National Committee today suggested that the plebiscite in Puerto Rico on the territory’s ultimate political status authorized by a Federal law enacted in January be on statehood.
Reince Priebus said that “Republicans support Puerto Rico having a binding referendum that allows for United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state after they freely so determine.” His words in a statement commenting on Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla (‘Commonwealth’ party) accepting the Federal law after six months of debate were reminiscent of the Republican Party’s national platform.
He emphasized that Republicans “believe Puerto Ricans should have the right to determine their own political future .”
Priebus criticized Garcia and his ‘Commonwealth’ party, saying “We are glad Puerto Rico’s liberal governor has finally changed his mind and is working toward a binding referendum. Governor Garcia Padilla and his party have adopted an anti-democratic policy refusing to honor the 2012 statehood vote, and even opposing a federally sponsored vote to confirm the 2012 results.”
The criticism refers to a 2012 referendum under local law in which voters rejected the islands’ current territory status, sometimes misleadingly called “Commonwealth,” and chose statehood by 61% over the alternatives to the current status. It also refers to the ‘Commonwealth’ party’s refusal to accept the results of the 2012 vote because the ballot did not include the party’s proposal of an unprecedented political status.
Under the ‘Commonwealth’ proposal, Puerto Rico would be a nation but the U.S. would be permanently bound to it. The Commonwealth would have the powers to nullify the application of Federal laws and Federal court jurisdiction. It could also enter into international agreements and organizations that require nationhood. The U.S. would be obligated to grant a new subsidy to the Commonwealth and most of its land in the territory in addition to current aid to individuals. It would also have to continue to grant U.S. citizenship and free entry to goods shipped from Puerto Rico.
The Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton administrations and congressional leaders of both national political parties have said that the proposal is impossible for constitutional and other reasons.
Concerned that lobbying by Garcia would lead to Congress not acting on the people of Puerto Rico’s self-determination decision, the Obama White House proposed another plebiscite. Its options would have to be able to resolve the status issue and be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice as not conflicting with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.
The known possible options are statehood and nationhood.
Last week, the ‘Commonwealth’ party agreed to have the plebiscite but Garcia said that it would propose a ‘Commonwealth status’ that would meet the criteria, ending Puerto Rico’s territory status.
Congress enacted legislation last January based on the Obama proposal under the leadership of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. th
Puerto Rico’s representative to the Federal government, Pedro Pierluisi, who heads the statehood party and has a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives without a vote, has proposed legislation (HR 2000) authorizing the plebiscite to be on statehood and requiring a presidential statehood transition plan if Puerto Ricans vote for the status a second time. The bill is also sponsored by 131 members of the House from both national political parties. A Senate companion bill (S. 2020), introduced by Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), has two cosponsors, including Sen. Ron Wyden, then the chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over the U.S. territory status matters.
Priebus issued his statement three days before on the anniversary of the birth of Dr. José Celso Barbosa, the founding father of Puerto Rico’s statehood movement and Republican Party, and noting the anniversary. It reads in full:
“For over seventy years, the Republican Party has stood with the US citizens of Puerto Rico. We believe Puerto Ricans should have the right to determine their own political future and we are glad Puerto Rico’s liberal governor has finally changed his mind and is working toward a binding referendum. Governor Garcia Padilla and his party have adopted an anti-democratic policy refusing to honor the 2012 statehood vote, and even opposing a federally sponsored vote to confirm the 2012 results. This matters to us because Republicans support Puerto Rico having a binding referendum that allows for United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state after they freely so determine.”