Menendez rails against Puerto Rico bill for 4 hours on floor

Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezTrump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward Isolationism creeps back over America, as the president looks out for himself MORE (D-N.J.) held the Senate floor for more than four hours Tuesday as he hammed a House-passed Puerto Rico debt relief bill. 

"I have called this legislation the ultimate neocolonialism that we as a Congress would be passing. It treats the citizens of Puerto Rico like subjects," the New Jersey Democrat said from the Senate floor. "It's a power play, leaving the people of Puerto Rico unable to make their own government, make their own decisions, do what they believe is right."

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Menendez, who is seeking build opposition to the bill before a vote on Wednesday, warned his colleagues that he would be speaking for "some time." He started his speech shortly before 3:30 p.m., and yielded the floor around 7:40 p.m. 
 
 
The Senate is scheduled to take a procedural vote on the House legislation ahead of a Friday deadline for Puerto Rico to make a roughly $2 billion debt payment. Island officials have said they cannot make the payment.
 
The New Jersey Democrat has filed dozens of amendments to the Puerto Rico bill, none of which are currently expected to get a vote. 
 
 
Menendez and Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerMicrosoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Trump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Pay America's Coast Guard MORE (R-Miss.) circulated a letter this week pushing leadership to allow for amendments to the legislation. The New Jersey Democrat charged Tuesday that the legislation went against McConnell's promise for an open amendment process under a GOP-controlled Senate. 
 
"We have a legislation drafted over in the House for which there is no opportunity ... to have full debate and full airing of amendments," he added.  
 
Menendez is urging his colleagues to vote against the legislation on Wednesday in an effort to make changes to the bill. His push comes as key Democrats — including Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom Line Lobbying world Democrats aim to protect Grand Canyon from 'imminent' drilling threat MORE (D-Nev.) — said Tuesday they would back the bill as is.

But Menendez is facing pressure back in his home state to back down in the Puerto Rico fight. The Newark Star Ledger, New Jersey's largest newspaper, said while his concerns are "reasonable" that critics are "playing with fire."

"We can't compare this to a perfect bill; we have to compare it to the likely alternative, which is inaction," the newspaper's editorial board added.

At one point during his floor speech, Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellMicrosoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Senators introduce cybersecurity workforce expansion bill Boeing chief faces anger over 737 crashes at hearing MORE (D-Wash.) came to the Senate floor to speak with Menendez.  

Critics of the House bill complain about its creation of a federal oversight board. Because members of the board are selected by the president and Congress, they argue it cuts Puerto Ricans out of deciding the direction of their territory. 
 
Democrats have also criticized a provision that allows some federal workers to be paid below the minimum wage. 
 
 
"From a moral prospective, should the United States be supporting legislation which allows vulture capitalists, some of whom are billionaires, to make huge profits while at the same time nutrition programs and educational programs for low income children in Puerto Rico are cut?" he asked.
 
Leadership will need 60 votes to get the Puerto Rico bill over Wednesday's procedural hurdle. 
 
Menendez has introduced his own broader Puerto Rico bill, which — unlike the House bill —would extend the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit to the island territory. 
 
That proposal was almost immediately rejected by key Republicans earlier this year, who pledged to introduce their own measure. 
 
Updated at 7:47 p.m.