Puerto Rico's governor lobbies Congress against statehood

Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia-Padilla (D) has asked dozens of members of the U.S. House of Representatives to withdraw their support for legislation aimed at making Puerto Rico the 51st state.

Puerto Rico's delegate to Congress, Rep. Pedro Pierluisi (D), has sponsored the Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act, a bill that has 125 cosponsors, mostly Democrats. That bill authorizes Puerto Rico to hold a new vote on statehood, and if a majority agrees, the U.S. president would be required to submit legislation to Congress admitting Puerto Rico as a state.

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But Garcia, who was elected in 2012, is known to oppose statehood for the island, and asked members just before Thanksgiving to remove their names from Pierluisi's bill. Garcia's letter was first reported earlier today by the Puerto Rico Report, a non-profit organization that covers issues related to Puerto Rico's status as a territory.

The letter says Garcia is committed to an open and transparent process on the question of Puerto Rico's status. But it says Pierluisi's bill would essentially force statehood on the island and toss aside other options.

"Recently, the delegate who introduced H.R. 2000 openly stated that co-sponsorship of that bill equals… an endorsement for statehood," he wrote. "This is the latest and most overt admission that H.R. 2000 is drafted towards excluding all other options.

"As Congress moves to consider the question of Puerto Rico's political status, I urge you to show your support for a free, fair and transparent referendum process by withdrawing your co-sponsorship of H.R. 2000."

The question of what status Puerto Rico wants has been muddled since last year. Puerto Rico's former governor, Luis Fortuno (R ), favored statehood for the island, but he was defeated by Garcia in 2012.

However, Garcia's victory happened in the same election that saw a majority of voters choose statehood in a referendum question on the island's political status.

Despite that referendum, congressional aides said the U.S. Congress was not likely to consider any legislation pushing statehood for Puerto Rico, in large part because of Garcia's victory. Soon after his victory, a House aide noted that "the new government doesn't support statehood," which meant Congress was unlikely to act.

Aides also noted that the 2012 ballot didn't include other non-statehood options, which many said created a misimpression that there is now solid support for statehood on the island.

Garcia's letter said the question is still "deeply divisive" on the island, and said many, himself included, "prefer to maintain and develop our Commonwealth status."

Pierluisi said in response to the letter that so far, no one has heeded Garcia's call to withdraw support from the bill.

"The Governor or his representative in Washington has written multiple letters urging members of Congress not to cosponsor H.R. 2000," he said in a statement to The Hill. "Nonetheless, 125 Members have cosponsored the bill.

"The Governor is now asking those Members to withdraw their cosponsorship. At this juncture, we are not aware of any Member who has gone to the House floor to ask that they be removed as a cosponsor of H.R. 2000."

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