With the participation of the leaders of the three main political parties in Puerto Rico, the United States Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources held a hearing on Puerto Rico’s status and the results of the 2012 plebiscite. During the hearing, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi and former senator Ruben Berrios spoke as presidents of the Popular Democratic, New Progressive, and Puerto Rican Independence parties respectively. While the Obama administration was invited to send a representative to speak, it declined to do so.

The hearing began with a statement from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) who reviewed the history of Puerto Rico and its status, establishing that for Puerto Ricans to achieve their full potential, the status issues must be resolved. Wyden also stated that the “enhanced commonwealth” proposal is not a constitutionally viable option, followed by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)

Each one of the panel presenters had 5 minutes to deliver their statements, beginning with Garcia Padilla, who repeated previous unfounded claims that statehood did not win the past plebiscite, that commonwealth supporters did not have their option on the ballot and that the process was flawed. Pierluisi followed, explaining that Puerto Ricans are disenfranchised Americans, who have contributed to the development of the United States, yet are not afforded the basic rights of representation in Congress or the vote for their Commander in Chief. Last on the panel was Berrios, who delivered a statement previously released in which he emphasized Puerto Rico’s inalienable right to independence, expressed skepticism of Congress ever offering statehood, and mentioned prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera.

Following the statements, questions began with Wyden asking each of the panelists whether the current territorial status should be included in ballot, leading to an awkward exchange with Garcia Padilla, who refused to answer, arguing that the commonwealth is not a territorial option citing the Cordova v. Chase case of the First Circuit. Garcia Padilla cited the line that says “In sum, Puerto Rico’s status changed from that of a mere territory to the unique status of Commonwealth”, ignoring that the judgment in the case is based on the power of Congress to legislate as it desires with Puerto Rico, which reaffirms its supreme authority over the territory. The statements by Garcia Padilla also stand in contrast to his own expressions during an interview in which he clearly admitted Puerto Rico falls under the territorial clause of the US Constitution. Pierluisi and Berrios both stated that since voters have already rejected the territorial status, it should not be included in future votes.

The next bizarre moment of the hearing happened when Murkowski, expressing her constitutional concerns with an enhanced commonwealth, asked Garcia Padilla to define the proposal.

Garcia Padilla however failed to answer Murkowski’s question, instead citing a flurry of court decisions, which lead Berrios to state that “nobody knows what “enhanced commonwealth” is, calling it “hocus pocus.” Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) also asked questions about the proposal, based on the premise that the territorial status has been rejected, a fact Garcia Padilla tried to contend with the difference between territory and commonwealth argument, but to no avail. All Senators in the hearing agree the current territorial status was rejected in November.

The governor tried then to argue that removing the territorial status amounted to disenfranchising its supporters, prompting Pierluisi to call his argument “nonsensical” since all voters would be able to cast their vote in an up or down plebiscite.

The hearing continued with Berrios reiterating the right to independence, and Pierluisi calling for action on the issue.

Concluding, Wyden, Heinrich and Murkowski all seemed to agree on the unconstitutionality of the enhanced commonwealth proposal, and the outright rejection of the current territorial status, delivering a stinging defeat to the Popular Democratic Party, who struggled to explain the occurrences afterward.

Attending the media after the hearing, Garcia Padilla said one minute and a half was not enough time to explain the enhanced commonwealth status. When provided the opportunity to explain then to the media, he struggled and was unable to do so.

Seeing the committee’s reaction to his statements, Garcia Padilla is now seeking to undermine the legitimacy of the results of the plebiscite, in particular the first option, seemingly wanting to carve a new type of status under the US constitutional framework using “creative statesmanship” as basis, while at the same time undermining the strength of those in his own party who favor sovereignty presumably under the free association status, calling them “little feathers” instead of a wing within his party. His comments already warranted a strong rebuke from his former running mate Rafael Cox Alomar, who called the hearing a debacle for Garcia Padilla.


All in all the committee hearing proved to be an interesting exchange where the Committee on Natural Resources & Energy delivered a death blow to the territorial status, as well as to any artfully crafted arguments in its favor, or in favor of enhancing proposals that in the senators’ view, all fail to meet constitutional requirements. The issue barely registered in the national conversation, but the hearing did get an article on The Hill were the governor’s performance was seen as falling on deaf ears, while Pierluisi was interviewed by CNN on the issue.


You can watch the entire hearing here:

Title: Senate Committee Hearing