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US Senate Majority Leader on Puerto Rico Petition: I’ve Always Favored Statehood

The Majority Leader of the United States Senate yesterday said that he has “always” favored statehood for Puerto Rico.

Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) made the statement during a news conference on the eve of a demonstration at the U.S. Capitol organized by groups that seek equality within the U.S. for Puerto Rico or advocate self-determination for the territory.

One year ago this month, a plebiscite under local law petitioned for the Congress and the president of the U.S. to begin the transition of the territory to statehood. The vote on an initial ballot question rejected territory status, sometimes misleadingly called “Commonwealth” in the case of Puerto Rico.

“For me the answer is very simple: I am in favor of statehood; always have been,” Reid said.

The Senate’s Democratic Party leader held Republicans accountable for the failure of past bills in Congress to resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s ultimate status and to make most of the District of Columbia a State.

In recent decades, three bills on determining Puerto Rico’s ultimate status have been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives only to be blocked in the Senate. Federal legislation to provide for a referendum in the territory on its status options did become law in 2000 despite the opposition of then Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (MS), but the referendum was stopped by a “Commonwealth” party governor of Puerto Rico in 2001.

Reid was one of 17 senators from both national political parties who sponsored a Senate version of a Puerto Rican status resolution bill passed by the House with bipartisan support in 1998.  The bill and an alternative by Republican committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (AK) were not voted on in the Senate because of the opposition of Lott and then Republican Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (OK).

At the time, Senators Lott and Nickles were encouraged by Puerto Rico “Commonwealth” party leaders to stop the bill.  The “Commonwealth” party called the legislation a “statehood bill” even though it included the current territory status as an option in referenda in the territory that it authorized.

Lott had become convinced by a Republican representative of the “Commonwealth” party that Puerto Rico would be a solidly Democratic State if Puerto Ricans were authorized by the Federal government to choose their status preference.

The Republican, who now represents the current “Commonwealth” party-dominated Government of Puerto Rico has given the same advice to Republicans in Congress regarding last November’s plebiscite.  The “Commonwealth” party backed the losing territory status option in the plebiscite while simultaneously disputing that Puerto Rico is a territory, despite the U.S. Constitution’s Territory Clause applying to Puerto Rico.

The “Commonwealth” party further refuses to accept the determinations of the Puerto Rico Elections Commission following Commonwealth law and of President Obama’s staff that statehood won a majority of the vote on the plebiscite’s question of the preferred alternative to territory status.  It argues that statehood did not win 61.2%  because some people did not vote on the question.

The opposition of a “Commonwealth” party governor and legislature majority to the self-determination decisions of Puerto Ricans and to Federal action on the statehood petition resulted in President Obama proposing another plebiscite under U.S. Justice Department auspices on one or more of the options in last November’s plebiscite. The President’s advisors reasoned that the opposition could cause action on the plebiscite’s statehood petition to be obstructed in Congress and that the “Commonwealth” party would find it much more difficult to challenge a plebiscite under Federal law.

The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee has approved the Obama proposal.

Additionally, 125 members of the House have joined Puerto Rico’s representative to the Federal government, who has a seat without a vote in the House, in sponsoring a bill to require the president of the U.S. to submit legislation for a transition to statehood if the status wins an up-or-down vote in the territory. Twelve of the co-sponsors of the bill by Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D), who is also President of the statehood party, are Republicans.






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