A New President for Puerto Rico

President Joe Biden

One of the most common questions we’re asked is, “Who is the President of Puerto Rico?” This question has a new answer: Joe Biden.

Joe Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris, were inaugurated this week. As President of the United States, Joe Biden is also President of Puerto Rico…and Delaware, California, and all the rest of the states and territories of the United States.

Does the president make new states?

Now that Puerto Rico has voted for statehood (in 2012, 2017, and 2020) and officially requested statehood (in 2018), Congress needs to take action. A simple majority can vote to admit Puerto Rico as a state, and the admissions bill would then go to President Biden for his signature.

More than one territory has been stopped at that point. However, every admissions bill that has not been signed by the president when it was first sent has been signed later, sometimes by a different president. No president has ever prevented statehood for a territory of the United States.

Congress is actually in charge of creating new states. Several presidents in the past have favored statehood for Puerto Rico and asked Congress to make it happen, but it has not happened yet.

Still, it is certainly easier for a territory to achieve statehood if the president is behind it.

Does Joe Biden support statehood?

Yes, he does. 

Asked this question in 2012, Biden said, “I have always found Puerto Rico’s current political status as something very bizarre. My word of advice to you, and all Puerto Ricans, is that you continue to fight hard until you reach your goal of equality, and we shall act.”

In 2020, before the plebiscite, Biden said, “I happen to believe that statehood would be the most effective means of ensuring that residents of Puerto Rico are treated equally, with the same representation at the federal level. But the people of Puerto Rico must decide, and the United States federal government must respect their decision and act on it.”

Mr. Biden supports Puerto Rico’s right to determine her political status, he personally supports statehood, and he is clear that the federal government needs to take action on Puerto Rico’s decision.

Does the Vice President support statehood?

The Vice President does not sign admissions bills. However, Vice President Kamala Harris does have an important role in the Senate.

The Senate is currently evenly split between the two main political parties: there are 50 Republican senators, and 50 who are either Democrats or Independents who caucus with the Democrats. Sometimes votes in the Senate are divided along party lines. If 50 senators say “yes” and 50 say “no” on a bill, Vice President Harris will be the tie breaker.

Puerto Rico statehood is a bi-partisan issue; senators on both sides of the aisle will vote for it. However, we can imagine that 50 senators vote “yes” and 50 vote “no,” even if it isn’t a split along party lines. In such a case, Harris would cast the tie breaking vote. If she said “yes,” the answer would be yes. It would not be — “51% is not a big enough majority” or “This decision should come from Puerto Rico.” It would be yes, Puerto Rico is admitted as a state.

If she said “no,” the answer would be no. Puerto Rico could continue trying for admission, but on that day, Harris would have rejected Puerto Rico.

So the question of Kamala Harris’s position on Puerto Rico statehood is important.

Harris has been a vocal supporter of Puerto Rico. As the Sacramento Bee put it, “Kamala Harris has emerged as one of the most vocal champions of the American territory in Congress as the island struggles to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.” She has not, however, made a statement about statehood for Puerto Rico.

The Biden-Harris Plan for Puerto Rico

The Biden-Harris Plan for Puerto Rico is supportive and practical. It does not take a position on statehood.

Write a letter to the president or vice president explaining why statehood for Puerto Rico matters.

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