Washington – Donald Trump will remain in the White House at the beginning of 2019. Not even in Democrats dreams it seems that they can avoid it. But, Democrats do foresee that midterm elections will allow them to recover power over the agenda in Washington.
The main bet, facing November 6, is in the House. According to polls, if elections were held today, Democrats would win the House.
Emerson College's most recent poll puts Democrats at an 8 percent national lead when voters were asked to choose in a generic ballot between Democrats and Republicans in the House.
According to Real Clear Politics, right now, Democrats have the advantage in 205 seats and Republicans in 194, with 36 in strong dispute.
Republicans have a majority of 240-195 in the current session.
The way to the Senate is much more complicated. Real Clear Politics estimates that today Democrats have 44 seats, Republicans 48, and eight are in open competition. Today, the Senate Republican majority is only 51-49.
While the House 435 seats are renewed in next month's elections, 35 of 100 seats will be elected in the Senate.
But, 26 of the 35 Senate seats for midterm elections belong to Democrats, which leaves the Democratic electoral committee with a small margin of error, and keeps Republicans as favorite to retain the Senate majority.
For Puerto Rico, these legislative elections will have immediate implications.
For example, if Democrats win the House, Jennifer González, Resident Commissioner in Washington, will be in minority in January, when Congress 116th session begins.
As the appointments of the seven members of the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB), in charge of the public finances of Puerto Rico, expire in August 2019, the control of Congress can define the balance of that entity.
Changes in the Board
But, the scenario is not clear at all. Members who are not replaced by President Trump may continue in their positions.
If resignations arise, Trump will have to follow the same process of appointments that took place under the Barack Obama administration, according to Rolando Emmanuelli, who, on behalf of the Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union (UTIER, Spanish acronym), has challenged the constitutionality of the Board on the understanding that it violates the appointment clause of the US Constitution.
If, in theory, the seven members of the Board decided to resign, Trump would have to choose two of the recommendations submitted by the House Speaker, two from the Senate majority leader, and one from the minority spokesperson. The seventh can be directly appointed.
If everyone decided to leave, there are three possible scenarios.
First, if Democrats controlled the Senateand the House, they could recommend four of the seven members of the Board. Second, if Democrats only control the House, the balance would be just as it is now, four recommended by Republicans and three by Democrats. Third, if Republicans win the House and the Senate, they will recommend five of the seven board members.
The situation, however, is much more complicated when considering the section of the law that states that a vacancy in the Board will be covered the same way as the original member was appointed.
That could suggest, as an example, that if the Board president, José Carrión III, resigns, and if the speaker is Nancy Pelosi, as that appointment was proposed by speaker Paul Ryan, it would be the Democratic lawmaker who would present the list of candidates to President Trump.
Under federal PROMESA Law, the restructuring certifications of the Puerto Rican public debt require the vote of five of the seven board members.
"The two variables are that the members of the Board want to leave, or if the President decides to replace them," said Emmanuelli, who, however –and given the current scenario- does not expect “that a change of party can change the circumstances,” regarding the Board.
Recovery and statehood
Meanwhile, Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares said that if at least one of the Congress Chambers remains under Democratic control, he will be more hopeful about new significant allocations to mitigate the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.
A Democratic Congress, according to Rosselló Nevares, would strongly encourage a debate on the political future of Puerto Rico.
"As a Democrat I will be demanding not only greater commitment, but greater execution," about his proposal to turn Puerto Rico into a US state, he said.
For Rosselló Nevares, Trump's presidency "does not necessarily" block for the entire term the possibility of pro-statehood legislation such as the one introduced by Commissioner González.
A few days ago, Trump gave an "absolute no" to statehood, on the grounds that Puerto Rico has an "incompetent leadership" and fueling his public feud with the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz. His representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), Carlos Trujillo said on Friday, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, that there is no consensus on the island regarding status.
The government of the New Progressive Party (PNP) is still waiting for at least one public hearing on González pro-statehood bill. But, the issue is not on the Senate´s agenda.
"We will continue to push that initiative, because it was a campaign commitment not only Trump´s but of the Republican Party," and, regarding the status, of the Democratic Party, the governor said.
González, considers that her agenda will not suffer major changes if she remains in theminority.
"Most of my legislation is bipartisan. I have an excellent relationship with the Democratic wing," said Gonzalez, who warns, however, that she still has hope that Republicans will prevail in the hardest districts of the House.
If her pro-statehood bill is not approved this year, Gonzalez rules out the need to amend it to suit the ideas of some Democratic allies who are in the majority.
Under González's pro-statehood legislation, it is proposed to create a Congress Task Force to examine the changes necessary to make Puerto Rico the 51st state. González said that the measure intends to immediately incorporate Puerto Rico as a territory, which would be understood as a promise of statehood and would involve the payment of federal income taxes.
As the bill provides for the Working Group to submit its report about 14 months after the measure becomes law, in theory, a federal legislator who votes in favor of that bill early in 2019 would be expressing his or her intention to make a decision on the statehood proposal in the same Congress 116th session, which will conclude in December 2020.
If the measure were to be approved this year, as it is written, a vote in favor of statehood would be in the hands of a future Congress. And one Congress does not bind the other.
"I'm not going to lower my guard with the status issue. The status issue is one of the priorities," said Commissioner Gonzalez.
The Puerto Rican candidates
If there are no surprises, in January, there should be four Democrats of Puerto Rican origin in the House: José Serrano (New York); Nydia Velázquez (New York); Darren Soto (Florida); and Alexandria Ocasio Cortés (New York).
The first three seek re-election.
Ocasio Cortés -who has just been endorse by former President Obama- has emerged as a new liberal voice, after beating the minority number four, Joseph Crowley, last June.
Another Puerto Rican, Tatiana Matta (California), tries to unseat the one who seems to be the favorite to be the next Republican House speaker or minority leader, Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy is defending his seat in a clearly Republican district.
Both Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez (Illinois) and Republican Raul Labrador (Idaho), retire from Congress at the end of December.
A Democratic victory in the House would place Serrano as one of the 13 "cardinals", since he would once again be in charge of one of the powerful Appropriations subcommittees. He will be in a better position to process allocations for the island.
Velázquez, the main link of the Democratic leadership for the island´s fiscal and economic issues would return to the presidency of the Small Business Committee.
She said that Democratic spokespersons in House committees already held a first meeting to discuss the 2019 agenda.
Velázquezstated in that meeting regarding Puerto Rico, the priority must be reconstruction, including the housing crisis, financing the healthcare system through Medicaid program, improving the Island's access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ) and reviewing the treatment to the island under federal tax reform.
"We have to carefully oversee the reconstruction of Puerto Rico. We need those billions of dollars that have been granted to arrive, to have reports from federal agencies about where the money is going and how it is being used," said the Democratic congresswoman.
She said that she works the tax issue directly "with the office of the governor" Rosselló Nevares.
Governor Rosselló Nevares and several Democratic Representatives, including Velázquez and Senator Robert Menéndez (New Jersey), sought during the debate on the federal tax reform that Puerto Rico have a lower rate than other jurisdictions in the new tax on the intangible products of Controlled Foreign Corporation (CFC).
Previously, the Democratic leadership has made it clear that they will seek to investigate the response of the Trump administration to the emergency in caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Velázquez said they want to know how decisions were made at the most critical moments.
Regarding status, Velázquez maintained that the issue was not addressed at the meeting of the Democratic leadership.
But, Raúl Grijalva (Arizona) -who would be the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources under Democratic majority- has ruled out - unlike the current head of that Committee, Rob Bishop (Utah) -, to support a pro-statehood bill based on the June 2017 plebiscite, due to the low voter turnout.
Grijalva has also had a different approach to the debate on the fiscal crisis and public debt, and the possibilities of rebuilding the power grid.
Representative Grijalva, one of the most liberal congressmen, said that the focus of the Republican majority "has been to know if the Oversight Board is treating bondholders fairly". He promised that that will change.
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