Senator-elect Mitt Romney (R-UT) joins dozens of legislators who are now on record as supporting statehood for Puerto Rico. Romney expressed his support during his 2012 presidential campaign.
Then-governor Luis Fortuno quoted Romney in an interview in The Daily Caller, saying, “He [Romney] looked me straight in the eye and he told me that he was convinced that Puerto Ricans had contributed to the nation for so long, yet we were not partaking fully in the responsibilities and benefits of our citizenship, and that it was about time that we decide what we want to do, and should that be statehood that he would provide the leadership necessary to move that forward.”
The Washington Post quoted Romney as saying, “It was Ronald Reagan who very famously in our party said that it was important for people of Puerto Rico to have a choice to become a state, and if the people of Puerto Rico choose that path, I would be happy to help lead that effort in Washington.”
The New York Times similarly reported that Romney stated, “I respect the rights of Puerto Ricans to make their own decision with regards to statehood, and if they chose by majority plus one person to become a state, I will help lead the effort to provide the statehood that the citizens of Puerto Rico would seek.”
The Pew Charitable Trusts noted that Romney’s comments during his 2012 presidential race were consistent with the GOP platform and Romney’s past statements in favor of statehood.
Puerto Rico voters chose statehood from the viable status options in 2012 and in 2017, and the government officially requested statehood in January, 2018. There is a statehood admission bill in committee right now in Congress, with 58 supporters. The ball is firmly in Congress’s court.
Legislators willing to take a leadership role to resolve Puerto Rico’s status position are what’s needed.
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. This means that Puerto Rico belongs to the United States and is under the control of Congress, but can also remain a territory indefinitely. The Island has no voting members in Congress and therefore has very limited participation in U.S. democracy.
Many observers look to the limited federal response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico as evidence that the Island is not treated fairly by the United States. There are plenty of other pieces of evidence, including unequal healthcare funding and Puerto Rico’s poverty level. In fact, the Supreme Court has said that Congress is legally free to treat Puerto Rico differently from states.
Congress can admit Puerto Rico as a state at any time. Marco Rubio has claimed that education is key to getting Congress to take action.
“My commitment to Puerto Rico is not just policy,” he wrote. “It is personal.”
“I can think of nothing more damaging to the cause of statehood than an unnecessary and premature legislative defeat,” Romney continued. “As you know, once a legislator takes a position on an issue, circumstances can force them to harden those views before they have the benefit of hearing from both sides. Today, many of my colleagues do not support statehood because they do not fully understand the proposition. Our task is to change that.”