Washington – Although Raúl Grijalva doesn't know if he will be able to advance his agenda to review the powers of the Oversight Board, as the island´s government has fallen into discredit, he is convinced that he will stop any Republican attempt to take advantage of this situation to strengthen the fiscal entity.
Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee with primary jurisdiction over Puerto Rico, recognizes that the scandals of the Ricardo Rosselló Nevares administration have fuelled Republican claims to tighten control over the island seeking, among other things, to strengthen the powers of the Board.
“The conversation (on Puerto Rico) has changed,” in the face of the political crisis triggered by scandals related to governor Rosselló Nevares and his administration, said Grijalva –the first federal official to call ask for Rosselló Nevares resignation- in an interview with El Nuevo Día.
Even though he can't guarantee the support of his Democratic caucus, he said he will go on with his plan to push legislation aimed at reviewing the powers of the Board and added that he plans to call a hearing on possible reforms to PROMESA in September.
"We want to see more transparency, more dialogue with municipalities and with organizations that are close to the needs of the people," he said.
The U.S. House begins its six-week summer recess tomorrow, Friday, which extends to September 9. The Republican-controlled Senate -where it will be even tougher to reduce the Board's powers - plans to begin its summer recess on August 2.
In September, Grijalva expects to call a hearing focused on possible reforms to PROMESA, which imposed the Board and created a territorial court system to restructure the island's public debt, which, along with the retirement systems obligations, totals about $125 billion.
"We have to prevent that what is happening with the governor strengthens the positions of some Republicans and the administration, who want the Board to have more power and more influence on Puerto Rico's decisions," Grijalva said.
During the September hearing, the chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources also wants to debate his proposal to create a kind of federal Inspector General to oversee the transformation process of Puerto Rico's power grid, for which the island's government seeks to receive nearly $17 billion in federal funds.
He also wants to go back to San Juan this semester, this time alone, to meet with the same groups he and several members of his committee visited last March.
Grijalva said they will also hold a hearing on status this session.
However, he said those who promote the debate on statehood within his committee - Puerto Rican Democrat Darren Soto (Florida) and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González,in the Republican minority - must recognize that "there is a different discussion" about Puerto Rico, which "is not what (they) anticipated two months ago.”
Grijalva noted that it´s not just the scandals of the Rosselló Nevares administration, but also the determination of Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) to stop any statehood proposal for the island.
Previously, Trump himself had already ruled out the idea of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st U.S. state.
Grijalva explained that the debate on the island´s political status in his committee will have "an open agenda," not focused on statehood, but recognizing that the paths toward legislation in this Congress are blocked.
"I made a commitment to hold a hearing, but we have to be realistic about where we can go after that," he said.
Grijalva was the first federal official to call for Rosselló Nevares to resign, since he considers that corruption charges in sensitive areas such as education and health represented a "turning point" that made it clear to him that a change in the government of Puerto Rico was necessary.
"It´s not about being a clairvoyant or imperialist... If trust is to be regained so that people can have control of their own destiny... to do things right for his people (Rosselló Nevares) he had to step aside," said Democrat Grijalva, amid reports that Rosselló Nevares' resignation was imminent, besieged by corruption and the chat scandal.