In the months ahead, the new Congress will tackle a plethora of landmark legislation aimed at health care stabilization, the overhaul of several financial service industry regulations, infrastructure expending, pension reform and a possible cap for defense and domestic recurring spending if there’s no agreement on raising the federal debt limit by March 1, among many other issues.

This aggressive agenda must be acted upon within the first six to eight months of the year, because after that, the political environment in Washington will turn to the 2020 presidential campaign, making compromise on big issues almost impossible to achieve. But the matter of the political status of the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico must be a priority to the 116th Congress regardless of this historical time.


Puerto Rico has spent nearly 120 years as an American territory. That’s long enough. The debate over Puerto Rico’s status needs to be settled once and for all; no more excuses or delays.

The case for statehood in Congress has gained unprecedented support in recent years.

Every new Congress since the turn of the century has brought a marked increase in the number of representatives and senators who have backed the admission of Puerto Rico into our great nation as an equal partner.

In fact, in 2014 Sens. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSchumer wants answers from Trump on eminent domain at border Manafort developments trigger new ‘collusion’ debate Senators say questions remain on Trump strategy in Syria after briefing MORE (D-N.M.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenCongress should elevate those trapped in the gap – support ELEVATE Act IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries IRS waiving penalty for some in first filing season under Trump's tax law MORE (D-Ore.) introduced a bill that would have allowed Puerto Rico to begin the process of seeking statehood.

Historic Senate Bill (SB), the Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act, provided for a federally-sponsored vote on the territory’s admission as a state. If a majority of voters affirmed that they wanted Puerto Rico to become a state, the bill required the president to send legislation to Congress to admit Puerto Rico to the union.

Last year, our sole member of Congress – without a vote on the floor – Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, filed a bill along the same lines, which would pave the way for statehood, as requested in 2012 and then again in 2017 by the U.S. citizens living on the island.

It is important the new Congress acts on it.

The bill had the backing of many influential Republicans in the House of Representatives and, if submitted again, I’m sure it will gather even more support among the GOP ranks in the lower chamber. It’s now up to the new Democratic leadership to move this matter.

Ever since Hurricane María struck the island on September 2017, Democratic legislators on the Hill have condemned what they saw as an unequal response to the disaster by the federal government compared to Texas and Florida. Well now they have the opportunity to ‘correct’ that alleged disparity.

I urge the new Speaker, Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDACA recipient claims Trump is holding ‘immigrant youth hostage’ amid quest for wall Fox’s Wallace to Pence: Is government shutdown all about ‘leverage?' Former House Republican: Trump will lose the presidency if he backs away from border security MORE (D-Calif.), to put this vital issue on top of her legislative agenda and to start the admission process at once.

She can use Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopOvernight Energy: House votes to reopen Interior, EPA | Dems question EPA over Wheeler confirmation prep | Virginia Dem backs Green New Deal Grijalva backs Bishop over current acting Interior Secretary Dems question legality of park fees during shutdown MORE’s (R-Utah) 2018 proposal, which is basically the same brought toward in SB 2020 which calls for a yes or no vote on the island’s statehood.

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled Senate must be active in this issue as well. I know that incoming Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), among many others, will be pressing the matter with a sense of urgency, at it should be. The Senate needs to move admission legislation this year.

Puerto Ricans in the states, numbering now more than 5.9 million, have to put pressure on their representatives, as do the people on the island in the national media.

I, along with hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, will not rest until this matter is resolved.

It’s time for Congress and White House to finally recognize the inequality of the current colonial system and their obligation to the U.S. citizens who reside in this Caribbean paradise. Give us equality. Grant us statehood now.

Carlos ‘Johnny’ Mendez is Speaker of Puerto Rico House of Representatives.