“The Americans in Puerto Rico deserve the respect to have a process that has actually been thought out, has been debated, and that gives them an opportunity to enter statehood in a way that is more common with the way other states have entered, and this bill is not that. This bill has serious problems with it.”

Rep. Bruce Westerman made this statement in Congress last year when the House passed the Puerto Rico Statehood Act. Westerman, who is now the chair of the Natural Resources Committee and was at that time the ranking Republican member, voted against the bill in the committee and in the House.

“It is obvious,” he said during the debate, “there is bipartisan support for Puerto Rican self-determination. That is not the issue. The issue is the process, and this is a bad process.”

Problems with the process

Westerman objected to a number of items in the bill. One is the requirements for the constitution of a new nation of Puerto Rico if the territory were to choose independence. Westerman stated that the United States should not have any authority over the constitution of a foreign country, which is what Puerto Rico would be if it declared independence.

He said there should have been more hearings. Rep. Grijalva, the chair at that time, pointed out that there had been a number of hearings. however, most of the hearings were about the two status bills which were cobbled together to create the compromise bill, the Puerto Rico Status Act, which was eventually passed.

Westerman objected to that part of the process, too, calling it “secretive.” Reps. Nadia Velazquez and Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, along with others on the committee, worked to craft a bill which different camps of Puerto Rico leaders could agree upon, which is not the usual process for a bill. Westerman felt that other committees in Congress should have been involved and that the negotiations about the bill should have taken place openly within the committee.

He had concerns about the details of the description of sovereign free association, as well. “The bill contradicts itself, offering Puerto Rico the promise of
independence while prescribing actions that should be taken by the newly sovereign nation. How can you be independent yet have another nation dictate what your actions will be?” he asked. “It promises the trappings of U.S. citizenship without the responsibilities of being a part of the United States.”

Now’s his chance

We have concerns about the Puerto Rico Status Act, too. We share some of Westerman’s concerns. We see a solution. Since Rep. Westerman wants a respectful process with plenty of hearings, he should now schedule hearings on the current Puerto Rico Status Act, HR2757, which is currently under consideration in the committee that he now leads.

Westerman has the opportunity to be the leader who brings another state into the Union in the 21st century. He can be the one to complete this essential task in the right way.

“The question of Puerto Rico’s political status is a life-altering decision for the people of Puerto Rico,” he said during the debate.  “Just as we would expect the people of Puerto Rico to deliberate its questions, understand its consequences, and accept responsibility for the choice, so should Congress.”

Please click below to tweet to Rep. Westerman, asking him to hold the hearings he said were so important.

@RepWesterman , you said Puerto Rico deserves a respectful process for admission as a state. You can make that happen. Please hold a hearing in your committee on HR2757, the Puerto Rico Status Act. Click To Tweet



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