The House on Thursday passed a bill that would set a vote to determine Puerto Rico’s political status.
The bill, titled the Puerto Rico Status Act, cleared the chamber in a 233-191 vote. Sixteen Republicans voted with Democrats in support of the legislation.
GOP “yes” votes included Reps. Don Bacon (Neb.), Liz Cheney (Wyo.), Rodney Davis (Ill.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Mayra Flores (Texas), Andrew Garbarino (N.Y.), Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Bill Huizenga (Mich.), Dave Joyce (Ohio), John Katko (N.Y.), Dan Newhouse (Wash.), Bill Posey (Fla.), María Elvira Salazar (Fla.), Lloyd Smucker (Pa.) and Fred Upton (Mich.).
If enacted, the measure would schedule a vote on a binding referendum. Puerto Rico residents would decide whether they wanted statehood, independence or independence followed by free association with the U.S. It would also create an objective and nonpartisan voter education campaign in the lead-up to the vote that would be federally funded.
But the legislation faces unlikely odds in the Senate, where at least 60 votes are needed to send the measure to President Biden’s desk for his signature. And there are just days remaining in the current Congress.
The House set a vote on the bill shortly after House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and a bipartisan group of lawmakers announced that they had struck a deal on the legislation, which had stalled in the chamber for months.
After passing through the House Natural Resources Committee in July, the measure did not move, leaving many wondering whether it would make it through the House before the current Congress comes to a close.
“Over the past months, we came together to act on a belief that we all share: Puerto Rico’s colonial status as a U.S. territory should not continue, and its people must determine the political destiny of their island themselves,” the group said in a statement Thursday night. “Many of us disagree on what that future should look like, but we all accept that the decision must belong to the people of Puerto Rico and to them alone.”
“The Puerto Rico Status Act will grant them that choice,” the lawmakers added.
During debate on the House floor Thursday, Hoyer, a co-sponsor of the bill, said, “For far too long, however, the people of Puerto Rico have been excluded from the full promise of American democracy and self-determination that our nation has always championed.”
“We owe it to Puerto Ricans to bring an end to their island’s 124-year-old status as a U.S. territory and to grant them control over their island’s political future,” he added.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, said “we are here today because we must move towards decolonization.”
“The current status is unsustainable and fundamentally unfair and un-American,” she added.
A number of Republicans, however, aired concerns regarding the bill, including its consideration process and the quick speed by which House leaders brought it to the floor. The Thursday afternoon vote was first announced Wednesday night.
Additionally, in a statement following the vote, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the chair of the House GOP conference, said she voted against the measure because it provides the option of Puerto Ricans voting to be independent.
“I do not support today’s proposal that would allow independence. The United States should bring the over three million American citizens in Puerto Rico closer, rather than pushing them further away,” she said in a statement. “This last minute bill was brought to the floor by Nancy Pelosi without a committee hearing on the text. A proposal as complicated and impactful as statehood requires a thorough review and debate.”
– Updated 2:08 p.m.