Congress spars with Puerto Rican governor opposed to statehood

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The top Republican on the panel agreed change is in the air.

“It's clear to me the majority of Puerto Ricans don't favor the current status,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who says she's the only sitting senator born in a U.S. territory. 

She has called for island residents to have a choice between retaining the current Commonwealth status; statehood; independence; and free association, similar to what the United States has with the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau.

The debate comes as President Obama has asked for $2.5 million for a new referendum on statehood. Puerto Ricans voted last year in a nonbinding referendum in which 54 percent of voters said they did not want to retain the current status.

García Padilla argues the referendum was invalid because it asked voters to weigh in on the island's “present form of territorial status” instead of calling it by its name, “commonwealth.” Statehood advocates say that's nonsense.

“The current status has now lost its legitimacy,” said Pedro Pierluisi, the island's nonvoting member of Congress and president of the opposition New Progressive Party.

Pierluisi introduced legislation in May calling for an up-or-down referendum on statehood. He has threatened to take the statehood issue to the United Nations if he doesn't get his way.

Puerto Rican lawmakers Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) and Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) are urging their colleagues to oppose the resolution, saying Obama's call for a status referendum is a better approach.

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