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Puerto Ricans voted for statehood. Will it happen?

Puerto Ricans voted ‘yes’ on a referendum asking whether or not the territory should become a U.S. state. But with control of Congress still yet to be determined and some in Washington making the issue of Puerto Rican statehood a partisan issue, what's the prospect of it actually happening? Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner and non-voting representative in the US House of Representatives.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    On Election Day, Puerto Ricans voted in favor of becoming the 51st state. The vote was non-binding and would need the approval of Congress to push statehood forward.

    I recently spoke with resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, Representative Jenniffer González-Colón about the possibility of statehood and the hurdles that still lie ahead.

  • Jenniffer González-Colón:

    Congress has the responsibility, by the Constitution, to add territories as a state. Even people who were not in favor of statehood before the plebiscite, now they acknowledge that that's the will of the people

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This is doesn't happen in a political vacuum. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says, look, this is Democratic priority, they, Democrats want to get Puerto Rico to be a state so that they can get two new senators.

    But here you are, you often caucus with Republicans, you are, I think, the Chair of the Republican Party. So how do you assuage those concerns that Republicans in the mainland might have?

  • Jenniffer González-Colón:

    Look, there's false preconceptions, and false claims about statehood on the island. Republicans, actually the Republican platform, and you just said, I'm the GOP Chairman in Puerto Rico. I caucus with the Republicans since I was elected in 2016. Now I got reelected for four more years. You got President Ronald Reagan, President Gerald Ford, both President Bushes, President Eisenhower, endorsing and supporting statehood for the island.

    Even writing op-eds in The Wall Street Journal, in the Republican platform it is included, in this one, 2016, the support of the RNC to Puerto Rican statehood. So, I think members on the Republican side may not agree on this, they cannot use that Puerto Ricans are going to be Democrats because that's not the reality. Actually statehood for Puerto Rican has been in the Republican platform since the 1960s. There has been there. So those personal prejudices that many have, I'll be trying to educate, and provide facts for the reality of the island.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How would statehood affect almost the twin crises that Puerto Rico has struggled with over the past few years, not just recovering from Hurricane Maria and the other storms since then, but also the financial crisis and the debt that you're in? What would statehood do for those?

  • Jenniffer González-Colón:

    First of all statehood is not going to be a magic wand to resolve all problems, but it will provide opportunities. It will provide equal footing in many of the decisions, right?

    Right now, Congress decides the regulations of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and we do not have participation. I mean, I'm the only member representing the island and we don't have senators. We should be having at least four members of the House. So how the most democratic country in the whole world going to fight for democracy in all corners and then in your backyard, you still have a territory, you still have a colony? So I, I truly believe that statehood will provide the same resources Hawaii and Alaska received at that time. And that was the property value will go up dramatically during the first ten years of statehood in those two former territories. The economy grew more than 100 percent because of the American flag for investments in property.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How much do you think the long term and the large debt that Puerto Rico's in, is inhibiting Congress from taking steps?

  • Jenniffer González-Colón:

    Well, you know, that now is going to be our fourth year of Fiscal Oversight Board for the island. And instead of trying to correct and help those fiscal situations on the island, they're just trying to manage all federal funds. Actually, their expenditures are higher and higher. And who pays that? The government of Puerto Rico. We don't really see what's going to happen in the next three months. T

    here are some vacancies in the oversight board so the president can nominate two more members to the oversight board. And those nominations have not been made yet.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right, Representative Jenniffer González-Colón, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Jenniffer González-Colón:

    My pleasure.

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