Rubio: Puerto Rico gov should put aside statehood push, focus on governing
© Greg Nash

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioIvanka must recalibrate her paid family leave plan to make it tenable The United States needs a career ambassador in Honduras Rubio in Colombia to push for delivery of humanitarian aid to Venezuela MORE (R-Fla.) on Thursday called out Puerto Rico's governor for spending too much time pushing for the territory to become a state and too little time governing the island that is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria.

“If I were the governor of a state or territory that does not have power, I would spend more time [there] than in Orlando,” Rubio told Puerto Rico's largest newspaper, El Nuevo Dia. “Sometimes, when people feel criticized and under pressure, they look for someone to blame, because they did not achieve this or that. I do not think it is smart to turn the Puerto Rican issue into a partisan issue.”

Rubio's remarks, translated in the Miami Herald, come after Gov. Ricardo Roselló visited Washington last week along with a "shadow" delegation of two senators and house members representing Puerto Rico demanding seats in Congress and calling for a path to statehood. 

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Roselló recently said Rubio's support for the GOP-backed tax plan that he called a "devastating blow" to Puerto Rican residents was "disappointing," saying the bill did not do enough to help the island's struggling economy, which was decimated by a powerful hurricane in September. 

Rosselló said the new tax code treats Puerto Rico as "a foreign jurisdiction," and he said Congress had "turned a blind eye" to its difficulties. 

The Florida senator, a longtime advocate of Puerto Rican statehood who has Cuban heritage, did not change his stance on the issue but demurred the new push.

“At this moment, frankly, we don't have the votes in the Senate,” Rubio said. “What I want is to avoid a defeat. That would be regrettable, because then people would say, ‘That was already voted on in the Senate’ and unfortunately many people who would vote against it still don't understand the issue.”

But Rubio told the paper that he will continue to support Puerto Rico. 

“I am going to work on the issues of Puerto Rico, no matter what [Rosselló] says,” Rubio told El Nuevo Dia. “I have worked in favor of the issues of Puerto Rico before he was elected governor, and I will continue working on the issues of Puerto Rico after he is no longer governor.”