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In Puerto Rico, Pierluisi is out, Vázquez is in — and uncertainty reigns

Puerto Rico's political upheaval continued when the island’s supreme court overturned the installation of Pedro Pierluisi as governor. Outgoing Gov. Ricardo Rossello had positioned Pierluisi to succeed him, but the high court found that process unconstitutional -- paving the way for Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez to assume the post. Judy Woodruff talks to Frances Robles of The New York Times.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to our second lead story tonight.

    The political turmoil in Puerto Rico took a new turn today when the island's Supreme Court overturned the swearing-in of Pedro Pierluisi as governor. Outgoing Governor Ricardo Rossello, who was forced from office last week after public protests, had positioned Pierluisi to succeed him.

    But the high court today found that process unconstitutional.

    That cleared the way for Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez to assume the post late this afternoon.

    For the latest on all this, we turn to reporter Frances Robles of The New York Times.

    Welcome back to the "NewsHour," Frances Robles.

    So how did the Supreme Court arrive at this decision?

  • Frances Robles:

    It was a decision that was widely expected, because there was a contradiction between what Puerto Rican law says and what Puerto Rican Constitution says.

    So he was never confirmed by the Senate, and the law seas that was OK, and the Constitution says it's not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, Wanda Vazquez, after saying she wasn't interested in assuming this position, is now going to be stepping in?

  • Frances Robles:

    Yes, she was sworn in about an hour ago. I don't know that she ever said she would turn down the job. She just wanted to make clear that it wasn't her interest, she wasn't jockeying for the position.

    And it is actually widely expected that she will not stay in the job. Everyone is kind of expecting her to make a bunch of Cabinet nominations and then resign herself, so that the succession continues.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why do people believe she's not interested and won't stay?

  • Frances Robles:

    You know, this is the "Game of Thrones" without the dragons and the homicides.

    And so what it is, is a bunch of people in backrooms jockeying of who's going to be in power. And, so, the person who has a lot of power in Puerto Rico now is the head of the Senate, and he and she are archenemies.

    And so it's kind of just understood that he will not allow for her to stay in that position long and there have been deals made as to how this is going to play out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So what does that mean, Frances Robles? Who steps in if she doesn't stay long and someone has to replace her?

  • Frances Robles:

    Well, it depends on whose rumor you believe.

    But the prevailing rumor, which has been actually published in the local media, is that the Puerto Rican Congresswoman Jenniffer Gonzalez is very much expected to be named secretary of state. If she is named and then confirmed by the House and the Senate, which is the part that Mr. Pierluisi didn't do, then, if Ms. Vazquez resigns, then Ms. Gonzalez will become the governor of Puerto Rico.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in fact, she was a guest on the "NewsHour" just the other day.

    So she would be acceptable to the people of Puerto Rico, it's believed?

  • Frances Robles:

    I think she is. She doesn't have the baggage that a lot of people have. Even Ms. Vazquez, she was suspended from office a few months ago.

    Mr. Pierluisi has a got of connections in his family, and so that they were very much seen as products of the establishment, of the establishment taking advantage of this popular uprising to put in more of their own.

    And although Ms. Gonzalez is a member of that party, she's pretty well respected. She's actually a pretty popular political figure on the island.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in just a few seconds, how are the people in Puerto Rico dealing with the turmoil at the top?

  • Frances Robles:

    Everybody is just kind of waiting to see who's going to be next to see whether they have to unleash those protests again.

    You saw that a bit when Mr. Pierluisi took office, and now there's kind of a calm, a tense calm.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Frances Robles of The New York Times, we thank you.

  • Frances Robles:

    Thanks for having me, Judy.

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