John Catsimatidis interviewed former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on The Cat’s Roundtable radio show. He started off with a bold statement: “Half of Puerto Rico has moved to Florida!”.
Puerto Rican voters
There may be uncertainty about the numbers of people leaving Puerto Rico, but Catsimatidis acknowledged that his hyperbolic claim was “an exaggeration.” The point he was making was that the new residents of Florida coming from Puerto Rico have the power to cause a shift in American politics. Now that they’re living in states — especially in traditional swing state Florida — Puerto Rican voters can make a big difference.
While living in Puerto Rico, the U.S. citizens of the Island can’t vote for president or senators, and can vote for only one Congressional representative — the Resident Commissioner. The Resident Commissioner has no vote in the U.S. Congress.
Because there is a widespread belief that Puerto Ricans will usually vote Democratic, the shift of population from the Island to the states is seen as a possible disruption for the Republican-controlled Congress. There is also a common belief that the Congress will not support statehood for Puerto Rico, because they think Puerto Rico will be a blue state.
Puerto Rico statehood: “It’s right.”
Priebus brought out some facts that counter that misconception, while emphasizing the importance of Puerto Rico as an issue in upcoming campaigns. “It’s really important for the party to pay attention to Puerto Rico,” said Priebus. “People probably don’t know this, but the Republican Party nationally has taken a very pro-Puerto Rican position.”
A lot of people might not know that the Republican Party favors statehood for Puerto Rico, said Priebus. “Number one, it’s right,” he said, “but number two, there is politics involved. You have about 300,000 new Floridians who have come to Florida from Puerto Rico just this year… If it was me, I would make sure that we have every single body on the ground.”
Priebus mentioned Puerto Rico leaders Luis Fortuno and Jenniffer Gonzales Colon, both of whom are Republicans. Fortuno was the Resident Commissioner from and Gonzalez-Colon is the current Resident Commissioner.
“Sometimes people in our party wrongly think that those elected from Puerto Rico are going to be Democrats,” he said. “This is not true.”
“They don’t get to vote but they do have influence,” Riebus said of Puerto Rico leaders. He tied in the post-hurricane situation, saying, “You have the aid, the infrastructure that’s really falling apart, and the electrical grid there. This is important not only to Puerto Rico but also to the United States and a lot of businesses and companies.”
“These are Americans.”
Catsimatidis said, “But if the Puerto Ricans move to Florida and they vote, their vote counts.”
Priebus agreed, reminding Catsimatidis that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens — no matter where they live. “These are Americans. They’re Americans in Puerto Rico. This is really something we need to pay attention to. It’s not a topic we talk about it a lot, but we should.”
Puerto Ricans have elected both Democratic and Republican governors and Resident Commissioners. The main political parties in Puerto Rico are different from the mainland political parties, and members of a single party in Puerto Rico may choose to be either Republican or Democratic in national politics. Priebus, who was the Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2011 through 2016, concluded that the Republican Party can woo Puerto Rican voters, but that the issue is beyond party politics.
“There’s nothing on the outside that tells what party or what president is inside,” said Priebus, speaking about the White House. “It stands for America. The White House stands for freedom and opportunity.”
Listen to the interview: