A frequently had debate was reinvigorated on Capitol Hill Thursday afternoon as several congressional lawmakers came together and made public their plan to introduce a bill to the House floor that would officially grant Puerto Rico statehood.
With Puerto Rico currently identified as a territory of the United States, native-born Puerto Ricans are granted standing as United States citizens with the caveat that they do not possess the ability to vote in national elections or receive identical Social Security or tax benefits those Americans residing stateside. Puerto Rico is also granted a member of Congress, but that member is not permitted to vote.
As a result, there has long been an interest — particularly among Puerto Rican citizens and public officials — to move for the island’s entrance into the Union as America’s 51st state.
“We in this country have said ‘separate but equal’ is inherently unequal. And yet, we allow this to happen to 3.2 million people every day, that their rights are determined by their zip code or by their area code,” Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego said Thursday.
“A Puerto Rican can jump on a plane and land in Florida and have 100 percent equal rights, or stay on the island and have diminished rights,” the Arizona representative continued. “In what world can we allow that to happen?”
Gallego was one of a few U.S. representatives to come together with Puerto Rican leaders — Gov. Ricardo Rosselló among them — for Thursday’s introduction of this legislation. Among them were Reps. Donald Young of Alaska, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Darren Soto of Florida.
Soto, who drafted the bill himself, expressed Thursday afternoon the bill’s deeply personal nature for him as Florida’s three-term Puerto Rican congressional representative.
The bill comes on the heels of two non-binding plebiscites from 2012 and 2017 in which 61 and 97 percent of Puerto Ricans respectively voted in favor of working toward statehood, and is deemed by Soto to be “the first of its kind ever” in that it would not — if approved by Congress— require the Puerto Rican electorate to go through the process of once more voting in favor to validate such a resolution.
“This bill is different in that it’s just a straight admissions bill. All other bills before it were either calling for an additional plebiscite or had multiple conditions, committees and task forces that the status would have to jump through hoops on … So this is the first bill that simply admits Puerto Rico,” Soto said.
The bill, if signed into law, would admit Puerto Rico as a state within 90 days.
The bill faces a tremendous uphill battle both in Congress and the court of public opinion, however, with many conservative Americans and commentators labeling motions like those to grant Puerto Rican statehood as thinly veiled efforts to win Democrats even the smallest increase in voters; as well as a poor economic decision.
Republicans in the past have favored Puerto Rican statehood, and the bill does have bipartisan sponsorship from Rep. Young. However, the bill will also see difficulties were it ever to make it to the Oval Office.
On numerous occasions, President Donald Trump has publicly and explicitly dismissed the idea of pulling Puerto Rico into the Union.
Trump has also received copious amounts of backlash as a result of his quarreling with San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto in the wake of Hurricane Maria — which devasted Puerto Rico in 2017, destroying the island’s power grid, killing more than 3,000 people and doing more than $90 billion in damage.
Trump’s squabbles with the mayor began in early 2018 when the mayor leveled numerous public claims against the president for what she claimed to be a lackluster response to Puerto Rico’s needs following the disaster.
Trump has since intermittently taken shots at Yulin Cruz as the FBI opened a probe into whether or not the mayor was involved in impeding the delivery of important supplies and care to hurricane victims.
Both Yulin Cruz and Rosselló have gone after Trump this week, referring to him as a “bully” and a “racist.” Rosselló even went so far as to threaten the president, saying, “If the bully gets close, I’ll punch the bully in the mouth.”
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