Rick Scott. (David Villafañe)

Washington – Republican Senator Rick Scott (Florida) believes that the debate over Hurricane María and recent corruption charges against former Puerto Rican officials make it more complicated to advance a pro-statehood bill for Puerto Rico.

“There are people for and against it. The problem with all these things is that when you politicize them, it becomes more difficult to achieve them. The hurricane didn’t help. Corruption makes it more difficult,” Scott said when asked about his conversations with Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González about a possible pro-statehood legislation.

When mentioning Hurricane María, which devastated the island two years ago, Scott said he was referring to the political debate in Washington over "who care more about Puerto Rico."

Democrats have voiced President Trump’s administration slow and inefficient response and Trump´s contempt for the situation on the island. "Congress is not working well, it’s dysfunctional, and when those things turn into political battles, it becomes more difficult," Scott said.

Both President Trump and Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) said Puerto Rican statehood was an “absolute no”. McConnell links the statehood proposal to an alleged Democrats "socialist agenda".

In that scenario, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman, Democrat Raúl Grijalva (Arizona), indicated that it would be "a miracle of miracles" to advance a statehood proposal in this session.

However, Commissioner González still intends to revive a bill – similar to the one she introduced in June 2018 – for Puerto Rico to become an incorporated territory, as a step towards statehood.

Under the incorporated territory status, residents of Puerto Rico would have full access to U.S. welfare programs and would pay federal income taxes, but without some of the political rights of those who live in the 50 states.

This bill would be very different from the one introduced by Puerto Rican Democrat Darren Soto (Florida), which seeks to turn Puerto Rico into a state, with a three-month transition and without the federal government consulting Puerto Ricans on the island.

Seven months ago, the New Progressive Party (PNP) Board approved promoting a “yes-or-no” on statehood referendum in or before general elections, as former Chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, Republican Rob Bishop (Utah) recommended in November 2018, stating that in order to advance the status debate, another plebiscite would be necessary.

At their Friday meeting, the PNP Board reaffirmed its intention to try to link another referendum under a 2014 law that would allow the U.S. Attorney General to certify whether the ballot and educational campaign of a referendum aimed at resolving the island’s political status comply with the Constitution, laws and federal public policy, in exchange for allocating $ 2.5 million to the State Elections Commission(CEE, Spanish acronym) to help finance the plebiscite.

The Ricardo Rosselló Nevares' administration did not wait for federal certification for the 2017 referendum. Back then, 97 percent of voters favored statehood, but voter turnout was only 23 percent due to a boycott by those opposing statehood. The federal government then warned that excluding territorial status as an alternative would be against federal public policy.

In a letter to the government of Puerto Rico later joined by Republicans Don Young (Alaska) and Doug LaMalfa (California) and Commissioner González –  Bishop warned that not having the U.S. Department of Justice endorsement led the opposition to challenge the 2017 referendum.

Last week, Puerto Rican PNP Senate Spokesman Carmelo Ríos said he had new meetings in Congress to promote Soto’s bill and said the Puerto Rican congressman told him that Grijalva will hold a hearing on status in October.


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