Past Presidents’ Views on Puerto Rico

With the presidential election coming upon this fall, we wanted to know more about presidents and Puerto Rico. What positions have U.S. presidents taken on statehood for Puerto Rico?

President Trump

Then-candidate Trump made this statement on his campaign website when he was campaigning:

There are 3.7 million American citizens living in Puerto Rico.  As citizens, they should be entitled to determine for themselves their political status. I am firmly committed to the process where Puerto Ricans might resolve their status according to Constitutional and Congressional protocols. I believe the people of Puerto Rico deserve a process of status self-determination that gives them a fair and unambiguous choice on this matter.  As president I will do my part to insure that Congress follows the Constitution. The will of the Puerto Rican people in any status referendum should be considered as Congress follows through on any desired change in status for Puerto Rico, including statehood.

Since then, he has made a couple of quips about Puerto Rico’s status, saying for example that he would support statehood if Puerto Rico could promise Republican senators. He has not made any official statements about statehood for the territory during his presidency.

President Obama

President Obama said that he would support the result of the 2012 referendum, which favored statehood. The White House agreed that the vote was a “clear decision,” but later backed off. His administration set aside $2.5 billion for a final referendum which was intended to “resolve” Puerto Rico’s status. Here is the text:

$2,500,000 for objective, nonpartisan voter education about, and a plebiscite on, options that would resolve Puerto Rico’s future political status, which shall be provided to the State Elections Commission of Puerto Rico: Provided, That funds provided for the plebiscite under the previous proviso shall not be obligated until 45 days after the Attorney General notifies the Committees on Appropriations that he approves of an expenditure plan from the Commission for voter education and plebiscite administration, including approval of the plebiscite ballot; Provided further, That the notification shall include a finding that the voter education materials, plebiscite ballot, and related materials are not incompatible with the Constitution and laws and policies of the United States.

President George Bush

George Bush’s President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status concluded that statehood and independence were the only permanent status options available to Puerto Rico. Bush supported statehood, while expressing his intention to leave the decision up to the people of the territory.

President Clinton

Bill Clinton supported self-determination for Puerto Rico. His Task Force determined that statehood, independence, and continuing as a territory were the only possible status options for Puerto Rico, and Clinton said he would uphold the decision made by the people of Puerto Rico.

President George H.W. Bush

Bush said, “I strongly support statehood” in his State of the Union address in 1989. No ambiguity there.

President Reagan

Reagan also supported statehood for Puerto Rico. In addition to number of public statements, he also wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal expressing his belief in statehood. He described Puerto Rico’s current status as “unnatural.”

President Carter

Carter, like many politicians, supported self-determination for Puerto Rico, “whatever your choice may be.”

President Ford

Ford asked Congress to get started on Puerto Rico Statehood. “I believe that the appropriate status for Puerto Rico is statehood,” he said. “I propose, therefore, that the people of Puerto Rico and the Congress of the United States begin now to take those steps which will result in statehood for Puerto Rico. I will recommend to the 95th Congress the enactment of legislation providing for the admission of Puerto Rico as a State of the Union.”

In 1977, he said, ““The common bonds of friendship, tradition, dignity and individual freedom have joined the people of the United States and the people of Puerto Rico,” he said. “It is now time to make these bonds permanent through statehood.”

Both the Republican and democratic platforms favor statehood for Puerto Rico. In order for Puerto Rico to become a state, Congress will have to vote by a simple majority to admit Puerto Rico as a state. The president will then have to sign the bill. Some current states did not get a signature from the president for their admission on their first try, but they later got a president’s signature.

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