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Puerto Rican Gov Pierluisi expects US statehood bill by mid-March, says Congress ‘morally obligated’

American and Puerto Rican flags. (Wikimedia Commons)
February 17, 2021

After Puerto Rico voted in November to pursue statehood, Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said this week he expects Puerto Rican statehood legislation to be introduced in the House of Representatives by mid-March.

Puerto Rico voted in November, 52% for and 47% against the territory to gain statehood. In an interview with Axios, which aired Sunday, Pierluisi said, “Congress is morally obligated to respond” to Puerto Rico’s statehood vote.

Pierluisi said he has spoken with Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR), a non-voting member of the House for Puerto Rico, about pushing forward Puerto Rico’s statehood.

Pierluisi said he expects legislation to be introduced within the House of Representatives, by mid-March, to address Puerto Rico’s statehood vote.

While Puerto Rico has passed previous measures for statehood, congressional approval is also required and has been a roadblock for past efforts. Pierluisi, who is a member of Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party, believes Congress is more likely to grant Puerto Rico statehood this time because Democratic President Joe Biden has voiced support for it and Democrats currently control both the House and Senate.

Puerto Rico does not currently have representatives for Congress with voting power and Puerto Rico can not vote in elections for the U.S. President. Pierluisi believes that should change.

“Statehood is not a panacea,” Pierluisi said. “Of course we have to do better. But there’s no question that having two senators and four representatives in Congress batting for us when needed would make a difference.”

Pierluisi predicted that after being granted statehood, Puerto Rico would be a swing state and would likely have elected officials from both parties to serve in its Congressional delegation, though he said it “would probably lean Democratic.”

Statehood would also give Puerto Rico access to federal programs such as Medicaid and Earned Income Tax Credits.

“We need a game changer in Puerto Rico. And one game changer would be that we get equal treatment in key federal programs,” he said.

Congress is not required to take up Puerto Rican statehood.

As president, Donald Trump raised concerns about the island territory’s issues with corruption, particularly with its handling of disaster relief funds used to recover from hurricanes.

“Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth. Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt,” Trump tweeted in August of 2019. “Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten, and it is sent to Crooked Pols. No good!”

Speaking with Axios, Pierluisi said Trump’s corruption concerns were exaggerated and served as “an excuse or pretext for not actually responding as they should have” to hurricanes that hit the island.