House Approves Bill Opening Door to Puerto Rican Statehood

December 15, 2022 by Dan McCue
House Approves Bill Opening Door to Puerto Rican Statehood
A woman waves the flag of Puerto Rico during a news conference on Puerto Rican statehood on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 2, 2021. The U.S. House has passed a bill that would allow Puerto Rico to hold the first-ever binding referendum on whether to become a state or gain some sort of independence. It is a last-ditch effort that stands little chance of passing the Senate. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

WASHINGTON — The House passed the Puerto Rico Status Act on Thursday, a bill that would allow Puerto Rico to hold the first-ever binding referendum on whether to become a state or gain some sort of independence.

Though the bill currently stands little chance of passing in the Senate, it received a significant amount of bipartisan support in the lower chamber, where it passed by a 233-191 vote.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who has worked on the issue throughout his career, said on the floor of the House Thursday that Congress owed it to Puerto Ricans “to bring an end to their island’s 124-year-old status as a U.S. territory and to grant them control over their island’s political future. 

“This bipartisan legislation would organize and fund a binding, island-wide plebiscite that would allow the people of Puerto Rico to vote among three options: statehood, independence or sovereignty in free association with the United States,” he said.

“Additionally, it would implement a comprehensive, nonpartisan public-education campaign to help voters understand the implications of each option long before any ballots are cast,” Hoyer continued.

“This bipartisan bill also includes a variety of oversight measures to ensure that the election is secure, transparent and fair,” he said. “I have long believed that Puerto Ricans deserve the right to determine their political destiny, which is why I convened a group of House members and senior Puerto Rico officials and worked with them to reach this long-sought consensus on a path forward for self-determination.” 

“For more than a century, Puerto Rico has been governed under a political system imposed by outside forces rather than established by its own people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “Denied the right to a vote in Congress or for president, Puerto Rico’s territorial status has often left it vulnerable to unequal treatment — including the previous administration’s cruel withholding of disaster aid in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma.  

“The Puerto Rico Status Act will empower the people of Puerto Rico to choose for themselves how to move forward: statehood, independence or sovereignty in free association with the United States,” she said.

The proposal would commit Congress to accept Puerto Rico into the United States as the 51st state if voters on the island approve it.

But Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., was among those who objected both to the bill and the way it was brought to the House floor.

Though she said she supports statehood for Puerto Rico, she was disturbed the bill would also give the island’s voters the choice of independence.

“The United States should bring the over 3 million American citizens in Puerto Rico closer, rather than pushing them further away,” she said.

Stefanik also objected to the way the bill was brought to the floor “without a committee hearing on the text.” 

“A proposal as complicated and impactful as statehood requires a thorough review and debate,” she said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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