The Puerto Rico Status Act, which passed after a grueling United States House Committee on Natural Resources hearing, stalled in Congress, falling victim to the frenzy before Congress goes to recess. With other priorities, both Senate and House leaders have indicated the vote, originally planned for the last week of July, will be postponed to September.
Support for the bill weakened in the House, with Republicans refusing to support the bill and Democrats pointing out issues within the bill. Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (NPP, R) of Puerto Rico, the sole Republican in support of the bill, attempted to rally support but failed to convince other Republican representatives. Representatives in the House raised concerns about the drafting process, citing concerns of lack of transparency. Representatives Jesús García (D) of Illinois and Rashida Tlaib (D) of Michigan voted against the bill in committee while Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) remains undecided after removing her name as a sponsor of the bill. They all indicated concerns with the drafting process and believed Puerto Ricans, especially Puerto Ricans living on the mainland, had little input. Representatives and advocates also claimed the process was not open, urging for further hearings in Washington, DC, and also suggesting the option of remaining a territory.
Representative Raúl Grijalva (D) of Arizona, who is chair of the Committee on Natural Resources, noted to reporters, “If [the vote] doesn’t happen now, which I think is a mistake, the last chance for this bill is September. There is intense lobbying…This isn’t about the process. It’s about protecting the status quo. Who benefits from the status quo? Political elites in Puerto Rico who prefer commonwealth.” Another negotiator of the bill, Representative Nydia Velázquez (D) of New York spoke on the postponement, explaining, “Apparently there are some people who want for this to remain the same. We’re gonna be here 100 years from now dealing with the same issue, with the colonial status.”
Advocacy groups have slowed down progress with the bill in order to advance their own concerns, lobbying Representatives and Senators. Power 4 Puerto Rico wants more hearings to create a better understanding of the bill, accusing the negotiators of failing to transparently draft the bill. Another organization, the League of Latin American Citizens, believes Puerto Ricans should have the right to self-determination and called for another option of maintaining the current territorial status to have all options available, although the organization supports statehood.
Even if the bill passes the house, it is unclear if it has support in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) of New York cited other concerns, saying, “Right now the three things we are focusing now in this work period as you know are CHIPS, reconciliation, and the PACT Act.” Democratic senators backed self-determination for Puerto Ricans, planning to support statehood or independence depending on what Puerto Ricans wanted. Republican senators indicated they were hesitant to support adding another state, while others had not spent time on the issue. Senators remain divided on whether they support the plebiscite, support statehood, support independence, or support the current territorial status.
Puerto Ricans will wait once again for the right to choose their own future, pushed to the back burner by other domestic issues and little time before the 2022 midterm elections.