Progressives Playing Games With Puerto Rico?

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Opinion

Christian Josi

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Posted: Jul 06, 2022 12:01 AM

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It doesn’t take a genius to understand that Democrats are in trouble heading into the November midterm elections. Rocked by plummeting poll numbers including the lowest in history for President Joe Biden, shocking inflation numbers including soaring gas prices, a tradition of voter rebellion against the party in power in midterms and so forth, they’re panicking. Panic makes politicians do strange things.   

Of course, one of the most obvious examples is escalation of the blame game. For example, they point fingers at corporations and in any other direction they can think of for inflation and the gas price disaster.  Yet they know full well that the problems are primarily rooted in their own misplaced spending priorities and and the militantly anti-fossil fuel policies of the Biden Administration. Democrats love to complain that they can’t do anything on urgent matters because they don’t have the votes to force change to the Senate’s filibuster rule–yet when they had a filibuster-proof majority early in the Obama Administration, with massive majorities in both chambers, they chose to do nothing.

And then there’s the shell games they often play with their own base. A very recent example of this has to do with the issue of Puerto Rican statehood–a big one for many Hispanic voters without whom Dem political woes go from bad to catastrophic–where members of the Democratic caucus may be gumming up the works on getting something done.

Congress is working on the latest Puerto Rican statehood bill as I write, but it looks like it may be being set up for sabotage by progressives. Members of the House Natural Resources Committee announced on May 19 that they had crafted a compromise bill called the “Puerto Rico Status Act” (PRSA), a self-executing legislation that would empower U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico to vote on whether to become a state, or choose a different status other than the current one (U.S. territory).

At least on paper, the PRSA has the support of Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R). The bill merges competing ideas from pro-statehood legislators with ideas from a bill from Reps. Velázquez (a longtime opponent of statehood) and Ocasio-Cortez who originally wanted to create a convention wherein Puerto Ricans would determine their own future.

This all sounds well and good, and though there’s little question all parties believe the current territorial status must change, there are reasons to be concerned that some progressives may gum up the works here. Specifically, cosponsors Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez could call for hearings that would have the effect of slowing the bill’s momentum in the House. How many more hearings do we really need on this issue? Anyone?

There are provisions in the bill that are unclear and can be fixed rather easily, and they certainly do not require hearings.

One has to do with giving voters the confusing choice of “Sovereignty in Free Association” versus independence versus statehood. This is confusing because the citizenship currently conferred to Puerto Ricans by virtue of territorial status may or may not be retained because of unclear language in the bill. A number of groups supporting statehood sent a letter to the committee calling for more detail on the Free Association option and clarity on the citizenship question. The concern, I’m told, is that Puerto Rican voters would likely be attracted to the Free Association alternative if they falsely believe they get the benefits of citizenship rights. This does need to be clarified, but through answers, not potentially unwieldy hearings.

Many statehood supporters are growing increasingly concerned that Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Velázquez have really joined the bill to ultimately sabotage the effort by slowing it down. Velázquezis not in favor of statehood, and Ocasio-Cortez has never voiced support publicly for statehood, simply self-determination. Few really believe either want Puerto Rican statehood to be the end result of Congress passing this legislation.

Note that this also comes at a time when more and more Republicans are speaking out in support of statehood. As am I. Which doesn’t get anyone much, but still…I care.

The concerns may sound far-fetched but they are legitimate and stranger things indeed have happened in the hallowed halls of our legislative branch. Look to any acts by the aforementioned members to push for hearings or to retain unchanged problematic provisions–which would disrupt the plan to quickly mark up the bill in committee and push it to the House floor for a vote as soon as this month–as proof of the progressive Puerto Rican statehood sabotage theory. If, on the other hand, they honor their co-sponsorship and allow this bill to move as quickly as it should, then we’re cool. How’s that?