Washington - A week after announcing his intent to renominate the current members of the Oversight Board, until last night, President Donald Trump had not sent the nominations to the Senate.
The countdown to the stay expiration began. Only a quick Senatorial confirmation or a judicial order can prevent the Board to cease operations on May 16, as set by the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
Last Monday, the White House announced Trump's intent to nominate the seven members of the Board – José Carrión, Carlos García, Andrew Biggs, David Skeel, Ana Matosantos, Arthur González and José Ramón González – to complete their three-year term, which expires in August.
From the Senate, the Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Republican Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) said that she intends to follow the regular appointments process. That process requires President Trump to deliver the documents on the nominations, an independent analysis by his advisors, interviews with the candidates, a confirmation hearing, a committee voting session and, finally, the vote on the floor.
After a meeting with Murkowski's advisors last Thursday, Luis Vega Ramos, Popular Democratic Party (PPD) spokesman in the Puerto Rico House Federal Affairs Committee, said that Republican officials at the Energy and Natural Resources Committee acknowledged that a regular appointment process "is not possible" in 10 days.
Despite the uncertainty, Javier Ortiz, executive director of FixPuertoRico.org and former member of Trump´s transition team, thinks the matter will be resolved one way or another before the 90-day deadline. "Everybody understands that something has to happen, on or before May 16, in order for the American people and the Puerto Rican people to be protected," Ortiz said.
Regularly, one or two days after the U.S. President announces his intention to appoint a federal official, the White House confirms the delivery of the nominations to the Senate. But, in Trump's White House, things are not necessarily traditional.
Democratic Senator Robert Menéndez (New Jersey), close to Puerto Rican affairs, said he hopes that the confirmation process "will not be automatic" because he wants to have a well-considered evaluation of the candidates and their potential conflicts of interest.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on February 15, that the Board was unconstitutionally appointed because its members are principal U.S. officers and should have been selected by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.
Under PROMESA, former President Barack Obama selected six of the members from congressional recommendations and named one directly, banker José Ramón González.
Two Board members, Andrew Biggs, and David Skeel, were proposed by Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), whose office last week referred on the procedure that Senator Murkowski decides to follow.
The Board requested the First Circuit Court of Appeals to extend the stay of its February 15 decision until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether or not to review the Court´s decision. Ideally, the Board asked the First Circuit to decide no later than Friday, May 3, whether to extend the stay. But the First Circuit has not issued a decision on this yet.
The Board said that if the First Circuit rules again against the stay, then they will request the extension to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In testifying Thursday before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares welcomed President Trump´s attempt to end the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Board but again avoided taking a position for or against the appointments. Despite discussing amendments, neither Rosselló Nevares nor any member of the Natural Resources Committee proposed to repeal the statute or to end the Board´s operations.
Yesterday, at an event in Manatí, Governor Roselló said that he understands that they are trying to tackle “a problem of uncertainty.” “When the Court determined that the appointments were unconstitutional, everyone froze. This (reappointments) allows the process to be done in the right way,” he said and added that now it is up to Congress to evaluate the current members based on merit since they have been working for more than two years. Rosselló noted he hopes they will be evaluated in a rigorous fashion.
Meanwhile, Oversight Board Executive Director Natalie Jarekso said that if the Board has to end operations on May 16, Title III (debt restructuring) cases could be dismissed, which would cause chaos in courts and on the island.