Miami Herald

Could Puerto Rico become a U.S. state? New bill in Congress faces an uphill battle

- BY SYRA ORTIZ-BLANES AND BIANCA PADRÓ OCASIO sortizblan­es@elnuevoher­ald.com bpadro@miamiheral­d.com McClatchy White House correspond­ent Alex Roarty contribute­d to this report. Syra Ortiz-Blanes: @syraortizb

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

Florida Rep. Darren Soto and Puerto Rico Resident Commission­er Jenniffer González on Tuesday introduced a bill that would enable Puerto Rico to be admitted into the United States as a state — a proposal that faces an uphill battle in the House of Representa­tives, despite optimism from proponents that a Democratic-majority Congress might push the initiative forward.

The bipartisan bill establishe­s a process to allow the territory to shed its 68year-old commonweal­th status. Island residents would vote on whether they want statehood.

“Puerto Rico has been part of this nation since 1898, when through the Treaty of Paris, we passed from the Spanish government to the American government,” said González as she stood outside the U.S. Capitol alongside other lawmakers. “On a day like today in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson gave us American citizenshi­p. Yet to this day, it is still a second-class American citizenshi­p.”

The legislativ­e push for Puerto Rico statehood comes after Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced he planned to fund elections for shadow representa­tives who would lobby for it in Washington. It also follows a November 2020 nonbinding referendum in which 52.52% of voters voted for statehood — the sixth such vote since 1967.

Both Pierluisi and the Biden administra­tion have expressed an interest in improving ties, which grew strained during the Trump administra­tion. The governor will meet online Wednesday with a trio of senior Biden administra­tion officials to discuss ongoing efforts to release more economic aid authorized in the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, the response to the pandemic, and long-term economic developmen­t concerns, a White House official said.

“The quality of life in Puerto Rico would be much better if we get equal access and in terms of voting rights,” Pierluisi told the Miami Herald. “Imagine having two senators like Florida does and four representa­tives batting for Puerto Rico.”

Becoming a state could allow the island to access additional federal funds, have stronger representa­tion in Congress, and the right to vote for president. Detractors support the island’s status quo relationsh­ip or want outright independen­ce for various reasons — sich as concerns that statehood is colonial and fears that Puerto Rico will lose its cultural identity.

In the Republican camp, Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio have previously voiced support for Puerto Rican statehood, in line with the Republican party platform, which “recognizes the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state.” But

Scott’s spokesman later said that Puerto Rico should prioritize its billion-dollar debt crisis.

Key congressio­nal leadership in both parties have not extended the same support for the island’s statehood. On the Democratic side, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently said he does not favor a statehood bill until the island can “straighten things out,” according to El Nuevo Día. Meanwhile, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell deemed the concept as “full-bore socialism” in 2019.

Although Puerto Ricans in the mainland U.S. favor Democrats, analysts note that statehood for the American territory does not guarantee that voters on the island, which has conservati­ve and Republican factions, will choose Democratic officials.

Heat left with no participan­ts for All-Star Sunday,

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J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE AP Jenniffer González

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