Washington, D.C. - Congressman Raúl Grijalva wants to look into the government´s purchase order to acquire rapid testing kits, as part of an evaluation of the federal response to Puerto Rico amid the coronavirus emergency.
Although the virus complicated work in Congress, Democrat Grijalva said he is still interested in passing a bill to reform PROMESA in the U.S. House.
Grijalva, Representative for Arizona's 3rd congressional district, also reaffirmed his intention to promote a hearing that would allow a general discussion on the island's political future. He made it clear that the atmosphere in Washington D.C. does not seem inclined for statehood and considered that the "Statehood: yes-or-no" referendum promoted by the New Progressive Party (PNP), in the current political situation, would not change that reality.
The U.S. House is expected to approve Friday a bill that will establish the rules for the committees to meet remotely and for their members to vote without being physically in the House.
In an interview with El Nuevo Día, the Committee on Natural Resources chairman said that once the new rules are set and adopted and he returns to his agenda on Puerto Rico, the first thing he will do is take a look at the federal government's response on the island, a discussion that will include learning about the details of the Wanda Vázquez Garced´s government scandal regarding the purchase of more than $40 million in COVID-19 rapid testing kits.
Grijalva added the discussion will focus on what he considers was the slowness of the Donald Trump administration in giving the island access to funds through the CARES Act, like what happened with funds for federal checks of at least $1,200 to individuals. "The assistance was so slow that it did not have the necessary effect," he said.
Although he said Republicans are focused on the fact that "Congress cannot have confidence in the government of Puerto Rico," Grijalva said he prefers to shed light on the federal government's lack of attention to the island.
However, Grijalva noted he will also promote a discussion about the failed coronavirus testing kits contracts. "We are talking about the life and death of people... Many times, the way to clarify that is in public," Grijalva said about a scandal that is also being investigated by the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Republican Charles Grassley.
The congressman added he is still seeking to approve in the Committee, and if possible, on the House floor, a bill to amend PROMESA.
Of his original proposals, he maintains the idea of declaring health, public safety, and education services as essential, ensuring some $800 million annually in the budget of the University of Puerto Rico and canceling the unsecured debt.
He ruled out the proposal to appoint a federal Reconstruction coordinator, as he was convinced that this would represent another level of control over the island, in addition to Congress and the Oversight Board. A few weeks ago, the White House also appointed a Special Representative for Puerto Rico's Disaster Recovery, Rear Admiral Peter Brown, under the Office of Management and Budget.
Grijalva said he still has the idea of appointing a Revitalization Officer for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) because he considers it an opportunity to have an independent public company "that protects employees" and has "clean energy" sources. Others, he acknowledged, see it as a "level of control that we don't need."
Although he recognizes that most of his proposals to amend PROMESA will not advance, he believes it is important to approve them on the House floor. On one hand, he thinks that would force presidential candidates to take a stance on his proposal and would help have a basis for discussion over the next four years.
Puerto Rican Democratic Representative Darren Soto (Fla.) said former Vice President Joseph Biden, a virtual Democratic candidate for the White House, is willing to consider a reform of PROMESA if he is elected next November.
"If we don't get the [bill on potential reforms to PROMESA] to the floor, we would have to start all over again," Grijalva said.
No room for statehood
Grijalva said he maintains his commitment to hold a public hearing to discuss Puerto Rico's political future, although he doesn't think it is possible to advance any legislation.
The PNP government proposed a "statehood: yes-or-no" referendum for next November, which would not necessarily have the approval of the federal Justice Department, as proposed by a 2014 federal law.
Under the current political situation, with Republican-controlled White House and Senate, that type of referendum "is not going to have an impact on the administration or the Senate" and only "a limited impact on the House," Grijalva said.
"The reality is that the Senate leadership," through Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump, "has rejected statehood for Puerto Rico," he added.
Grijalva explained that to move the debate forward, "first there has to be a discussion of all the ideas," referring to status alternatives.
"Forcing a vote in Puerto Rico that is going to be challenged is not necessarily going to have the effect that the people who are promoting that (would like) ... There has to be a systemic political change” in the politics of Washington D.C. And he added that “once that change happens, then the discussion is more real and has a chance. Now the discussion is more about political rhetoric."