On Friday, reports came out of a letter sent to leaders in Puerto Rico from Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), in which they expressed their thoughts following the hearing of the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for which they serve as chairman and as ranking minority member respectively, on Puerto Rico’s status, held in August.
In the letter, both Senators indicate that from the testimony of Puerto Rico’s political leaders, it became clear to them that Puerto Ricans had in effect rejected the current status through the vote last November. It mentioned that as of now,the Congress has yet to decide on whether to fund the White House’s proposal for a new plebiscite to be conducted with supervision from the US Department of Justice, a proposal that seemed dead a couple months ago, but that given the recent budget deal between Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), could make a comeback in next year’s budget authorization.
For next year, there is also the possibility that the local legislature may enact a law for a constitutional status convention, whose scope, process and effect are yet to be determined.
Wyden and Murkowski then stressed that whatever method is used going forward, the “non-viable” ‘enhanced commonwealth’ status option not be considered, for it “confuses the debate and undermines the effort” to resolve the issue. Just like we said last week.
As expected, the reaction from the New Progressive Party was one of joy, with Resident Commissioner, and party president, Pedro Pierluisi saying that he was “glad that Senators Wyden and Murkowski have spoken clearly to the local leadership, since I am sure that our people do not want to waste time or resources proposing status alternatives that are unreal, if not impossible.” The NPP also approved a resolution in support of the letter’s contents.
Soon after, the Popular Democratic Party revealed its response through local Senator Anibal J. Torres, who said that “Pierluisi has been pushing his status project for 5 years without success. Today, he received a little letter from 2 Senators. He should frame it!” Pierluisi has proposed so far 2 status projects, HR 2499, which sought to have Congress approve a plebiscite, and this year, he filed HR 2000, which sought to conduct a straight up or down vote asking voters in the territory if they wish to become a state. The former was approved in the House and died in the Senate, and the latter remains in Committee in the House, with 129 cosponsors.
Pierluisi, lleva 5 años empujando su Proyecto de Status sin èxito. hoy celebra que ha recibido una cartita de 2 senadores. Que la enmarque!
— Aníbal José Torres (@ajt1975) December 14, 2013
The Governor of Puerto Rico and President of the Popular Democratic Party, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, also issued a statement, using the same words as Sen. Torres, but adding that the letter was “undemocratic.” Garcia Padilla also said that Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) , Mark Udall (D-CO) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) had expressed that they would “be in favor of a process that guarantees to Puerto Ricans free determination in terms of the formula that Puerto Ricans choose,” presumably referring to the constitutional status convention as the process and the ‘enhanced commonwealth’ as the formula (although we cannot be sure from that wording). That line may not mean much since 3 senators’ agreement with a vague statement does not override the constitutional requirements that are in place, which prevent the possibility of an ‘enhanced commonwealth.’ We’ve reached out to all of these Senators’ offices and will update with any comments.
The governor’s statement is bizarre, for it not only places emphasis on his party’s ignoring and discarding of the result of the 2012 plebiscite (how is that for “antidemocratic?”), but it also manages to attack the two Senators, from both parties, that are responsible for the Committee that oversees any and all changes of Puerto Rico’s status as a territory of the US.
The position of the PDP prompted Pierluisi to respond, saying that in Puerto Rico there seems to be a “problem with intelligence or incredible stubborness,” since they insist on promoting the current status with changes deemed impossible by many in the federal government. Pierluisi also reacted to political attacks from the PPD, which offered a preview of a race between Garcia Padilla and him in 2016, but more on that late.
If the governor and his party hope to move anything in the Senate regarding the status, it might be a good idea to not alienate to the two individuals who, regardless of who has the majority in the Senate, will control the Committee. Granted, that would be when making the assumption that the PPD and its president has any interest in solving the status issue. Wyden and Murkowski did say that the ‘enhanced commonwealth’ option is non-viable, confuses debate and undermines effort to solve this issue. You could argue that that is exactly the intent behind that proposal, but then, that would actually be making sense.