Rob Bishop. (GFR Media) (horizontal-x3)
Rob Bishop. (GFR Media)

Washington –Spokesperson for the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Rob Bishop (Utah), said that the Republican congressman has not officially sent the letter – asking the US Department of Justice to assist the government of Puerto Rico in case of a new referendum on the island.

Bishop's spokesperson, Kristina Baum, said that the letter –although signed and dated- should be considered a draft. According to Baum, the final content is discussed with Resident Commissioner, Jenniffer González.

"Jenniffer is leading this effort in coordination with Bishop," Baum told El Nuevo Día.

In the letter he signed on November 21, addressed to acting US Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker, Bishop, outgoing chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, requests to assist with a "statehood yes-or-no" referendum, if the government of Puerto Rico decides to take that route.

Bishop recalled a January 2014 law still in force that allows the US Attorney's Office to validate the constitutionality and compliance with federal public policy of status alternatives and review the educational campaign of a new referendum on the political future of Puerto Rico, then, the US Attorney´s Office would allocate $2.5 million to help finance the referendum.

In 2017, the government of Ricardo Rosselló Nevares – which has not suggested a new referendum – began the process with the US Department of Justice to validate the status alternatives regarding the plebiscite which was held on June 2017.

But, after the US Department of Justice determined to include the current territorial status in the ballot, which was originally going to be a choice between statehood and independence, the government of Puerto Rico did not wait for the final certification. 

Amid a boycott from opposition parties, statehood obtained 97 percent in that referendum, but the voter turnout was only 23 percent.

Since last June, González is promoting in the House a bill that, according to her, proposes to incorporate Puerto Rico as a territory and create a Congress Task Force to study the law changes required for the island to become the 51st state.

Although Bishop is a co-sponsor of Commissioner González bill 6246, he did not hold a hearing to discuss it. Last week, and unless he is forced to reopen a new one, Bishop held his last committee markup.

González, who has not been available to speak about Bishop's letter, said that she does not rule out for her bill to be discussed before the end of the year or to add her bill to another legislation.

But, according to Baum, she is also working in the letter in which Bishop recommends a new local referendum certified by the US Department of Justice.

In the letter, which his office describes as a draft, Bishop acknowledged that the 2012 and2017 plebiscites – although he considers they reflect that statehood won the majority vote– were locally promoted and not federally certified.

Neither Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares nor Commissioner González suggested to promote a "statehood yes-or-no” referendum on the island. In the past, they argued that there is no need for a new plebiscite for Congress to consider statehood for the island.

But Bishop's proposal -received yesterday by New Progressive Party Representative José Aponte- suggests that considering a new status referendum, has been, at least, under discussion with Commissioner González. To call this "statehood yes-or-no" referendum, a new federal legislation for it to be reviewed by the US Department of Justice would not be necessary.

In the letter to the acting Attorney General – that El Nuevo Día obtained through sources close to the White House and La Fortaleza –, Bishop stated that a proposal for a vote on the admission of Puerto Rico as a state would be consistent with the procedures that led to the transition of Alaska and Hawaii from territories to states. 

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump´s administration has ruled out both the 2017 and 2012 plebiscites and even Trump has given an "absolute no" to statehood. Democrat Raúl Grijalva, next chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, warned that, due to low voter turnout, the 2017 plebiscite cannot be a reference to push a new process regarding Puerto Rico´s political future.

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