Ryan meets with Hispanic Caucus to talk Puerto Rico

Ryan meets with Hispanic Caucus to talk Puerto Rico
© Cameron Lancaster

The Puerto Rico debt crisis took center stage Wednesday at Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE's (R-Wis.) first meeting with Hispanic leaders in Congress since he took over as House Speaker.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) members after the meeting praised Ryan's willingness to engage in dialogue, while conceding it was unlikely Congress would be able to pass legislation on Puerto Rico's debt before a key May 1 payment deadline.

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The CHC said the meeting was "productive and cordial," and "urged the Speaker to swiftly usher through the House legislation on Puerto Rico that allows the Island to restructure a meaningful portion of its debt, provides for reasonable, respectful and independent oversight of Puerto Rico’s fiscal affairs, and does not include labor provisions that harm workers."

Ryan spokesperson AshLee Strong said the meeting with the CHC "was rescheduled several times. We were able to reschedule for today. CHC's topics of discussion included Puerto Rico debt crisis and immigration."

Puerto Rico is set to default on $70 billion of debt unless payments are restructured. The island's financial future is tied to a bill being discussed in the House Natural Resources Committee, responsible for legislation on U.S. territories.

Del. Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico) said shortly after the meeting that compromise on the issue will "depend on how much both sides cede. We have to find middle ground, we're getting closer."

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), a member of the Natural Resources Committee, said it will "be difficult" to move anything before the May 1 deadline, blaming the impasse on differences between the parties. 

"I think the Democrats and Republicans are a little too far apart," he said. 

Pressed further, Lamborn clarified that he also opposes the Republican bill in its current form. He cited the fair treatment of creditors as a central concern, but also acknowledged the political pressure he's facing with a primary looming in June and radio ads already airing in his district on the issue.  

"It's not a taxpayer bailout. The trouble is some people are perceiving it as a bailout," he said. "Sometimes perception becomes reality." 

Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis Vicente GutierrezDHS to make migrants wait in Mexico while asylum claims processed Coffman loses GOP seat in Colorado Trump changes mean only wealthy immigrants may apply, says critic MORE (D-Ill.) praised Ryan for meeting with the Democrats on the issue, noting the political pressures facing the Speaker from conservatives in his own party. Gutierrez predicted Congress would miss the May 1 deadline, but said he'd rather wait than rush a bad bill.

"I want to see them do it right," he said.

"Speaker Ryan is very much committed," Pierluisi said, adding that "ideally within a month the bill should be out of the House. But I say ideally because you need a bipartisan bill. If you don't get a bill approved with a decent number of Republicans and Democrats, it's not going to have a prayer in the Senate."