A favorite of the ‘tea party’ and a leading Hispanic Republican became the latest member of the U.S. House of Representatives to endorse a bill on statehood for Puerto Rico.
U.S. Representative Raul Labrador (Idaho) said that the bill was “a good idea” that he would vote for.
Labrador made clear that his not sponsoring the bill was because he is a leader of Republicans in the effort to reform U.S. immigration laws and is preoccupied with that legislation and other issues, not because of a lack of support.
The bill was sponsored by Puerto Rico’s representative to the Federal government, Pedro Pierluisi (D/statehood party) and 37 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives from both national political parties.
The bill responds to the islands’ political status plebiscite last November. In the plebiscite, 54% of the vote rejected continuation of the current territory status, often popularly — but misleadingly — called “commonwealth”, and more than 61% was for statehood among the possible alternatives.
Among the Republicans are two senior Hispanic GOP Representatives: former Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, both of Florida.
Nearly one-third of the bill’s sponsors are from Florida, one of the most pivotal States in national elections and a State where the vote of citizens of Puerto Rican origin can swing elections between the national parties. Polling suggests that Puerto Ricans in Florida favor statehood over territory status or nationhood in an even higher percentage than Puerto Ricans who have remained in the islands.
National Republican leaders also recognize that their party will continue to lose national elections unless it demonstrates its openness to citizens of Hispanic origin. People born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens and the vast majority are Hispanic.
There are 3.7 million residents of the islands and 4.6 million people of Puerto Rican origin in the States.
The bill would require the president of the United States to submit legislation to enable Puerto Rico to become a State after a phase in of equal treatment in Federal tax and program laws if Puerto Ricans confirm their desire for statehood in a referendum. It would also commit the Congress to pass such a bill.
Puerto Rico is treated as a State under most Federal laws but is treated differently under major tax and social benefits laws. Puerto Rico’s economy and most Puerto Ricans lose more than is gained from the different treatment under the islands’ current territory status. The Federal treasury also loses revenue from multinational corporations and very wealthy individuals.
The bill follows legislation submitted to the Congress last month by the Obama Administration that would also provide for a vote in Puerto Rico to confirm last November’s self-determination decision. Under the U.S. Justice Department proposal, the Federal government would provide $2.5 million for a plebiscite on options proposed by Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission found by the U.S. attorney general to not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.
The House bill is compatible with the Obama proposal because the White House-initiated plebiscite can be on any of Puerto Rico’s real status options — including just one, such as statehood.
The Obama proposal requires that Puerto Rico plebiscite options not conflict with U.S. law and policy because Puerto Rico’s “commonwealth” party, which calls the current status “commonwealth”, misleads people by saying that the current status is not a territory status and has proposed a new “commonwealth status” that is impossible for constitutional and other reasons.
President Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, like the Administrations of both President Bush and President Clinton, has said that Puerto Rico would be subject to congressional territory governing powers under any “commonwealth” arrangement.
Among the problems with the “commonwealth” party’s proposed new “commonwealth status” are that it would have the Federal government permanently cede to Puerto Rico the powers to determine the application of Federal laws and court jurisdiction and empower the islands to enter into international agreements that require a jurisdiction to be a sovereign nation. It would at the same time provide Puerto Rico with even more U.S. territory economic benefits than at present.
Congressional committees and leaders of both parties have agreed with the Democratic and Republican administrations on Puerto Rico’s territory status and the unconstitutionality and general impossibility of the proposed new “commonwealth status.”
The Federal proposals for votes to confirm the self-determination aspirations of Puerto Ricans are being made because the “commonwealth” party governor and legislative majority elected to office at the time of the plebiscite dispute the plebiscite and its results. President Obama’s spokesman, however, congratulated Puerto Ricans on the plebiscite and recognized the choice of statehood as the alternative to temporary territory status. The U.S. House bill recalls the plebiscite results in detail.
White House staff and U.S. House members feel that the opposition of Puerto Rico’s new governor and legislature majority would block ultimate congressional action based on the plebiscite results so they decided that another vote in Puerto Rico on the issue is needed but under Federal auspices so that ‘commonwealthers’ cannot be given any credibility in disputing the plebiscite or the results.
The Obama and U.S. House legislative proposals fly in the face of efforts of the new governor and legislative majority to portray the results of the plebiscite as different from the official results, which were determined by the Puerto Rico Elections Commission with the support of its “commonwealth party representative. The governor and his legislature allies contend that the status option they urged votes for, the current territory status, was rejected by 51.7% instead of 54%, and that statehood won 44.4% of the vote instead of 61.2%.
They argue that Commission should have included ‘votes’ not cast in the percentage and number results, contrary to the law for the plebiscite, Puerto Rico election law, and general election practice.