Trump revives Puerto Rico status debate
President Trump has come out against statehood for Puerto Rico, citing his feud with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz (PDP, D) as well as negative media coverage of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria disaster relief.
“Instead of getting thank you, we got nothing but bad publicity,” Trump told Geraldo Rivera in a radio interview on Monday. The president also took the opportunity to call Cruz “incompetent,” and a “horror show,” appeared to not remember her name, and asserted that Puerto Ricans “shouldn’t be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they’re doing.”
Cruz, who does not support statehood, responded on Twitter, saying “I agree with you statehood is not a choice for PR. We must engage in a process of free determination where all the voices are heard.”
@POTUS I agree with you statehood is not a choice for PR. We must engage in a process of free determination where all the voices are heard
— Carmen Yulín Cruz (@CarmenYulinCruz) September 24, 2018
Trump declared he was an “absolute no” on the statehood question, remarking that it’s out of the question until Puerto Rico has “good leadership.”
The exchange is one of many between President Trump and the San Juan mayor, who has previous called an insult from the president to be “a badge of courage.” The feud between the two began in September 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, when Cruz criticized the president for the relief effort in a press conference.
The comments by President Trump come just one week after he publicly denied the hurricane’s reported death toll, claiming in a tweet that “3000 people did not die,” putting him odds with Puerto Rican officials who reported the figure. In the radio interview with Rivera, Trump called the disaster relief “phenomenal,” boasting, “I did a great job.”
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (NPP, R), who filed a bill this year to address Puerto Rico’s potential statehood, rebuked the president’s statement.
Equality 4 Puerto Ricans shouldn’t be held up by one bad mayor who’s leaving office in 2020 & do not represent the people who voted twice for statehood. In 2012 61%, and 97% in 2017. Equality & statehood are much bigger than any lousy & temporary politician. Equality transcends
— Jenniffer González (@Jenniffer2012) September 24, 2018
In a press release, Governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rosselló (NPP, D) also criticized the president’s statement, calling it “unfortunate.”
“The President said he is not in favor of statehood for the people of Puerto Rico based on a personal feud with a local mayor. This is an insensitive, disrespectful comment to over 3 million Americans who live in the US territory of Puerto Rico,” the statement reads.
The harsh language directed at the president are rare from Governor Rosselló, who is typically more cautious in dealing with Trump. Despite the president’s radio show comments lamenting the lack of “good leaders” in Puerto Rico, Trump has previously called the governor “a great guy and leader who is working really hard.”
Referencing the Trump’s address to the United Nations on the same day, Rosselló’s statement challenged the president to act on statehood.
“How can the United States make the case for democracy at the United Nations this week, when they have under their flag the most populous colony in the world?” the statement asks. “I urge all all political leaders in the nation to define their views towards our quest for equal treatment for US citizens of Puerto Rico,” he adds, also invoking the two recent votes in the territory for statehood. Trump made no reference to the Puerto Rico or disaster relief in his remarks to the UN General Assembly, where he highlighted the accomplishments of his administration.
Absent from Rosselló’s statement direct at President Trump was any mention of the disaster relief efforts, although the governor has previously attributed the territory’s “second class” status to his claim that Florida and Texas received “very different treatment” than was given to Puerto Rico.
Rosselló also invoked President Trump’s statement as a presidential candidate, drawing contrast with Monday’s comments. In the statement released by his campaign, the then-candidate said that Puerto Ricans “should be entitled to determine for themselves their political status,” and that “the will of the Puerto Rican people in any status referendum should be considered as Congress follows through on any desired change in status for Puerto Rico, including statehood.”
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump was open to statehood for the territory–support for statehood was even included in the 2016 Republican Party platform. If Donald Trump’s comments reflect the policy of his administration, he would be the first president in at least 40 years to be outwardly against statehood.
Trump’s predecessors varied in policy from support for statehood, to the freedom to vote for the option. President Ronald Reagan (R) wrote in a letter that “should the people of Puerto Rico choose statehood in a free and democratic election, we would work together to devise a union of promise and opportunity in our Federal union of sovereign States,” and that “in statehood, the language and culture of the island — rich in tradition and history — would be respected, for in the United States the cultures of the world live together with pride.”
The strongly supportive sentiment was echoed by George H.W. Bush, who said, “I’ve long believed that the people of Puerto Rico should have the right to determine their own political future. Personally, I strongly favor statehood.”
In an executive order, Democrat Bill Clinton wrote that it was his administration’s policy to help Puerto Ricans “obtain a governing arrangement under which they would vote for national government officials, if they choose such a status.”
President Barack Obama, who was in office during the 2012 Puerto Rican Status Referendum, maintained that “the status of Puerto Rico should be decided by the residents of Puerto Rico.” In 2014, President Obama signed a budget that authorized funding for the 2017 status referendum in which 97.18% voted for statehood.