The Puerto Rico Status Act, HR8393, passed in the House of Representatives last year.  Every Democrat voted for it, and 16 Republicans did the same. It went on to the Senate, but did not have time to be considered in the Senate before the end of the term.

The same or a similar bill might be introduced in the current Congress. The House might pass the bill again as they did before. The Senate is currently fairly evenly divided along party lines: the Democrats have 48 seats, there are 49 Republicans, and there are 3 Independents. It could be a tight vote.

What made so many Republicans vote against the bill? Could the bill be changed to encourage Republicans to vote for it, or could the legislators be educated to change their minds before the next vote?

Reasons for voting against HR8393: citizenship and benefits

Some of the nay-sayers had specific parts of the bill that they disagreed with.

For example, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers explained, “I voted against this bill because it requires the U.S. to continue to provide certain federal benefits, even if Puerto Rican voters choose independence. It also authorizes the use of Americans’ taxpayer dollars to fund an education campaign prior to the election.”

Other financial objections came from Rep. Bruce Westerman, who also said, “I cannot support this measure because of process concerns.” Westerman described the process of preparing the bill as “hasty and secretive,” though Rep. Raul Grijalva responded by pointing out the lengthy process of preparation and hearings that went into the bill.

Westerman also objected to some specific provision of the bill in the independence and free association options. “The bill contradicts itself,” he said, “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? It promises the trappings of U.S. citizenship without the responsibilities of being a part of the United States.”

Rep. Mike Walz said, “The self-executing legislation rammed through the waning days of the 117th Congress is just another barrier to granting the people’s will, while setting a dangerous precedent if independence is chosen regarding citizenship rights, transfer of federal properties, and continued federal payments to another foreign nation, which I cannot support.”

On the status questions

Rep. Tom McClintock was the only congressperson to argue specifically against statehood. “So how does it benefit America to admit a State that would be the most indebted, uneducated, poorest, and least employed State in the Nation?” While this could have been said about nearly every territory that has become a state (that’s 32 states), it was the only argument against statehood.

Nobody spoke against independence or free association, though many of the objections — including those of the members who wouldn’t vote for the bill because it requires financial support the the new nation of Puerto Rico — were to elements of the independence and free association options.

We don’t expect either of those options to win the vote, since every referendum during this century has returned statehood as the preferred option. However, it is possible under the U.S. Constitution, so it is essential that Congress agree with all the possible outcomes.

In the end, just one Member of the House, McClintock, argued against any of the status options. He also wanted to see the current colonial relationship as one of the choices on the ballot.

The process

A number of Members objected to the process by which the bill was developed and presented. Westerman said, “Our neighbors in Puerto Rico are American citizens. They are afforded the protections under the Constitution of the United States. I am from Arkansas. Arkansas was a territory at one time. There is a process for becoming a State. The American citizens in Puerto Rico deserve the respect to have a process that has actually been thought out, that has been debated, and that gives them an opportunity to enter statehood in a way that is more common to the way other States have entered.”

If you have read our sections on the territories that became states, or the book Citizens without a State, then you know that there has not been a single process by which territories became states. Each one has had a different process and a different story. Arkansas in particular was admitted after 25 hours of argument on questions including whether Arkansas was too poor to be a state, whether the territorial government had lied about the population numbers, whether the territory was too violent or too likely to vote Democratic, and of course the details of the territory’s laws on slavery.

However, a number of congressional representatives complained about the process of bringing the law to a vote.

For the future

The independence and free association options may need to rework their requirements for citizenship and financial support in order to be acceptable to Congress. There were many objections on these points.

Some people have also called for addition to the definition of statehood covering things like language and beauty pageants. These issues are not covered by the U.S. Constitution; therefore they are covered by the 10th amendment. The 10th amendment says that anything not covered by the Constitution is up to the states. These issues would therefore be up to Puerto Rico, not Congress. This point needs to be made clear.

Congress must take action on Puerto Rico’s political status. Please reach out to your representatives and encourage them to be on the right side of history.



2 Responses

  1. HR 8393 is dead in the water as it won’t pass a Republican Congress without the changes that I have mentioned before, and that were rightly brought up in this Article.

    We need to support viable constitutional Options.; accept the facts that the US Congress can’t impose Federal requirements, benefits or a statutory US Citizenship for Life on an Independent Nation (without or with a PACT of Free Association).

    Only STATEHOOD guarantees a permanent US Citizenship to say otherwise is to confuse People or politically distort the truth. See my other comments that summarize the situation. Best option: EQUALITY & PROGRESS with STATEHOOD!

  2. -Patriots rise! Equal Civil Rights for US Citizens-US Veterans–Puerto Ricans!-
    Today, the US Federal Government undemocratically controls the US Territory of Puerto Rico–with more US Citizens than 20 States that have NO Federal “consent of the governed” as Patriots demand- Equal Civil Rights-Fairness; revocation of unjust Laws; a Non-Territorial/Non-Colonial Status!

    FACTS–Since 1898 (US invasion) till Today-millions of US Citizens-US Veterans in Puerto Rico have a 2d Class US Citizenship-NO Vote for US President; NO just Representation in the US Congress; NO Parity in Federal Laws, Programs, or Funding (like Social Security, MEDICARE, MEDICAID, Veterans, Infrastructure, Education, Emergency, and other Federal Funds); NO permanent statutory US Citizenship (even if moving to a State). Plus, the Federal Government– controls PR’s Borders, Currency, Laws, Security, Economy, Trade, etc.–under the unjust and trite Territorial Clause (1787); racist Insular Cases.

    Besides, Puerto Ricans face a magna CRISIS and Exodus to the States–which major ROOT components are–Economic; Fiscal; Infrastructure; Social; and Territorial Status—where each PART affects the other. Federal discrimination & the undemocratic Territorial Status– affects everything; brings instability; ties PR hands to fairly compete-grow the Economy; limits progress; goes against our Democratic Ideals!
    The Federal Government should be the Servant of ALL the People; NOT the Master of some!
    The People with Equal Rights come first, not a “separate & unequal” Status! Remember, in our great US Republic, the power resides with all “We the People” (made up by individuals)–per our Declaration of Independence that calls for “Consent of the Governed”; as our noble US Constitution calls for Equal Rights-Fairness, and a Republican form of Government or a Representative Democracy (“a Government of the People, by the People, and for the People”–Lincoln)! NO Federal Vote results in NO Democracy!
    Even if one US Citizen (Individual) doesn’t have full Rights, is one too many!
    The FEDERAL GOVERNMENT can end this unjust inequality now, but, has not done so! Instead, some provide ageless EXCUSES; create a double standard that weren’t applied to other US Territories before Puerto Rico; politically distort/misinform; are biased or racist. This results in stalemate; perpetuates Federal oppression which is against the highest precepts of our noble USA’s Representative Democracy!
    “You can’t have it both ways, either you support Equal Rights or you allow Federal discrimination!”
    Silence to discrimination; supports injustice!
    FIX: Our Federal Government (Legislative, Executive, & Judicial) must ensure Equal Rights; let Puerto Ricans VOTE in a Plebiscite, with clearly defined non-territorial constitutional options-which only are:
    1. STATEHOOD-MEANS: Admission to our diverse “UNION of STATES”– under US Constitution/ Laws/ Democracy; Equal US Citizenship with full rights, benefits, and responsibilities…
    *With PR-STATE Identity; Constitution; Flag; Sovereignty… as other States & other US Citizens have.
    2. INDEPENDENCE-MEANS: PR National Sovereignty; PR Constitution/Laws, PR Citizenship… with loss of US Constitution & statutory US Citizenship, Rights, and Benefits…
    3. INDEPENDENCE with Free Association-MEANS: a negotiated PACT between Independent Nations on Terms (like trade, defense…) that can be terminated by either side; with PR Citizenship, and LOSS of US Constitution protection; LOSS of statutory US Citizenship, Rights, and Benefits…
    In a UNION-each State is stronger than by itself; complements others, with progress–for the Good of All!
    “En la UNIÓN está la Fuerza!”
    Only Statehood guarantees a permanent statutory US Citizenship as US Laws end upon Independence. Statutory US Citizens (by Territorial Clause/Jones Act-1917) moving to the STATES, have a stake in this just fight as they can lose their non-permanent statutory US Citizenship. THUS, the US Congress must let them Vote in any Plebiscite or allow for State Naturalization (per 14th Amendment)…
    Puerto Ricans Sacrifice & Contribute to our USA since 1513!
    US Puerto Ricans are about 10m strong, (most live in the States)-are integrated as the 2d largest US Hispanic Group that sacrifice; greatly contribute (in all fields of endeavor) to our US. Since 1898, Puerto Ricans patriotically shed sweat, blood, and tears for our US Flag (WWI; WW-II; Korea; Vietnam; Global War on Terrorism…). PR pays more Federal Taxes than 6 States; is a US Market that creates Hundreds of Thousands of US Jobs… PR Ancestors (1st Governor of PR & Crew) came to Florida (1513)–107 years before the Pilgrims; others fought in the US War of Independence (1776)…; help develop our now USA.
    The Federal Government must let the People Vote; Equal Rights is at stake!
    US Citizens in Puerto Rico want to end the Territorial (Colonial) Status as they Voted in certified local Plebiscites (2012, 2017, & 2020) for Statehood; against the current Territorial Status. Independence got only 2-5% of the Vote… Puerto Ricans cherish their US Citizenship, and have proven loyalty to our US.
    “We must Guard against a Tyranny of a Majority!”
    In our evolving US Constitution, it’s clear that the Power should reside with “We the People” (made up by Individuals). However, our Federal Government incongruently does not act to end Puerto Rico’s Federal undemocratic Territorial Status; amend or revoke unjust Laws that limit progress, like the–
    • Territorial Clause (1787) states: “US Congress shall have the Power to dispose of and make all rules and regulations pertaining to the Territory or other Properties that belongs to the US.” **It doesn’t mention that the Federal Government can take Individual Rights & Benefits away, but, it does…
    • Insular Cases (1901-1925+ based on racism)-states–Puerto Rico is an “unincorporated US Territory; more foreign than domestic, belongs to, but, is not part of the US (soil)”– resulting in a permanent “Separate and Un-Equal Status” which goes against a Representative Democracy…
    **These nonsensical double standards were NOT applied to other US Territories or US Citizens before Puerto Rico; are NOT in the US Constitution, are based on Racism…; condemned as unconstitutional by Justice Gorsuch, Sotomayor, and Others who support revoking them…
    • Jones (Merchant Marine) Act (1920)–imposes hidden higher costs on Puerto Rican Consumer Goods; badly hurts the Economy/progress; is unfair because a majority of States don’t pay for it…
    “Equality for a more perfect UNION!”

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