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Puerto Rico swears in congressional delegation

Puerto Rico swears in congressional delegation

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (D) swore in the seven members of its Puerto Rico Statehood Commission, the delegation that will go to Washington and ask to be seated in Congress as part of the island's bid for statehood.

The commission was sworn in at a ceremony Tuesday at La Fortaleza, the governor's official residence in San Juan.

Rosselló's father, Pedro Rosselló González (D), a former governor, was named the commission's chairman.

"We will request to be recognized and to be allowed participation in Congress," Rosselló Nevares told The Hill.

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Based on the island's population, Rosselló named five representatives and two senators. That’s the number of members in Congress that Puerto Rico would have if it were a state.

Puerto Rico Republican Party National Committeewoman Zoraida Fonalledas and former Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló (D) were sworn in as would-be senators.

Rosselló González, former Gov. Luis Fortuño (R), former Puerto Rico Senate President Charles Rodríguez (D), retired Army Maj. Gen. Félix Santoni (R),  and former MLB star Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez (I) were sworn in as aspiring representatives.

It’s unlikely the commission will be seated by congressional leadership — an act that would require articles of accession to be drawn up — but it will provide Puerto Rico's statehood bid with a powerful bipartisan team to lobby the cause.

The delegation was created under Puerto Rico's statehood law, local legislation that empowers Rosselló to pursue what's known as the Tennessee Plan.

Under that plan, territories of the United States, starting with Tennessee in 1796, have held local elections to demand accession as states.

"Historically, that petition has never been recognized for the states that have used the Tennessee Plan," said Rosselló González.

Rosselló González added that the group's expectation is not for Congress to immediately allow accession, but to lobby the cause of statehood until it's implemented.

"[The commission] will start a series of initiatives to draw attention and sensitize the nation about the need for Puerto Ricans to be recognized in equality as American citizens," he said.

"Thirty-seven times, sooner or later, [territories] have been accepted as states within the union," Rosselló González added.

The last time the plan was enacted was when Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959.

Both Rosselló and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R) made statehood their top campaign pledge.

A June plebiscite to decide the territory's status was won overwhelmingly by those backing statehood, but opponents of the idea boycotted the election, marring its credibility.

The plebiscite was also tainted by disagreement with the Department of Justice over its federal validity.

An initial set of ballot questions was rejected by Justice, and Rosselló ordered corrections made to suit federal observations in April.

But Justice asked for extra time to review the new ballot, and Rosselló went ahead with the election as scheduled.

The statehood bid has also met some opposition from both parties in Congress, although most Democrats support it and the Republican Party platform explicitly calls for statehood.

And the island's creditors strongly oppose the measure unless Puerto Rico can find a way out of its $72 billion in debt.

Statehood supporters argue that accession is the only way to provide economic viability for the island, which has been mired in a financial crisis that's seen about 10 percent of its population relocate to the states.

Both the statehood bid and the island's financial situation — controlled by a federally appointed fiscal board since passage of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act of 2016 — are under the purview of the House Natural Resources Committee.

The committee is expected to hold oversight hearings on Puerto Rico's situation in the fall.

The Statehood Commission will leave fiscal and other issues to the territory's government and focus on its core mission, said Rosselló González.

"This commission will focus specifically on achieving statehood for Puerto Rico," he said.

 

This post was corrected to reflect that Fonalledas, not Fortuño, was sworn in as an aspiring senator.