Pierluisi pledges to push Puerto Rico statehood in Congress

"After this vote, the question is not whether, but when Puerto Rico will cease to be a territory and have a fully democratic status."

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Pierluisi is perceived to have an uphill fight in convincing Congress to approve statehood for Puerto Rico, in part because of how Congress is perceiving the island's vote.

On Nov. 6, Puerto Rican voters supported a change in status by a 54-46 margin. Then, in a second vote, 61 percent of voters said they favor statehood, the first time a majority has ever voted in favor of this change.

Some have noted that this second vote did not include the option of an "enhanced commonwealth" status, which many have preferred. This led nearly a half million voters to leave the ballot blank, and some analysts say that if all options were available, it would be likely that there is still no majority on the island that favors statehood.

Last week, House aides said these aspects of the vote make it highly unlikely that Congress will make any effort to move legislation giving Puerto Rico statehood. Some added that the vote appeared to be an attempt to help shore up votes for pro-statehood Gov. Luis Fortuño (R), who ended up losing anyway, and that Fortuño's loss means Pierluisi has no mandate to seek statehood.

But on Wednesday, Pierluisi said on the floor that these arguments don't "withstand scrutiny," and said the question should be left to the people who voted, not those who decided not to vote.

"In our democracy, outcomes are determined by ballots properly cast," he said. "Power rests with the citizen who votes, not the one who stays home, or who refuses to choose from among the options provided.

"Some voters may have left the second question blank simply because they prefer the current status to its alternatives. Those voters were able to vote for the current status in the first question, so their viewpoint was reflected in the plebiscite results."

Pierluisi said past U.S. administrations and congressional leaders have all rejected the notion of making Puerto Rico an "enhanced commonwealth," which means this option needs to be ignored.

"The blank vote to protest the exclusion of an impossible status proposal is entitled to no weight," he said.