White House clarifies status stance
“To clarify, the results were clear, the people of Puerto Rico want the issue of status resolved, and a majority chose statehood in the second question,” according to the statement obtained by CARIBBEAN BUSINESS from an administration source.
“Now is the time for Congress to act and the administration will work with them on that effort so that the people of Puerto Rico can determine their own future,” read the statement released by Luis Miranda, director of Hispanic media at the White House.
That statement came hours after White House spokesman Jay Carney stopped short of backing a push for Puerto Rican statehood, saying that the results of the status plebiscite were not “clear” and need further study by Congress.
White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked Monday whether President Barack Obama would “help” the bid to make Puerto Rico the 51st state, which has gained momentum after the election day status referendum on the island.
“I think the outcome was a little less clear than that because of the process itself,” Carney said in a Politico report.
The two-part ballot on Nov. 6 first asked all voters if they favor the current status as a U.S. territory. Regardless of the answer, in the second question, all voters then had the opportunity to choose from three options: statehood, independence or “sovereign free association,” which would grant more autonomy to the island of nearly 4 million people.
More than 900,000 of nearly 1.78 million voters, or 54%, responded “no” to the first question, saying they weren’t content with the current status.
On the second question, only about 1.3 million voters made a choice. Of those, nearly 800,000, or 61% of those expressing an opinion, chose statehood — the first majority after three previous referendums on the issue over the past 45 years. Some 437,000 backed sovereign free association and 72,560 chose independence. Nearly 500,000, however, left this question blank.
The certified results were being sent to the White House and the congressional leadership, and it would be up to them to begin the process of possibly admitting Puerto Rico into the union.
The Puerto Rican Independence Party and the statehood supporting New Progressive Party maintain that the results of the two-step plebiscite represent a clear rejection of the continuation of the current territory status.
Those voting “No” included statehood supporters, as well as advocates of independence and free association.
Gov.-elect Alejandro García Padilla and his commonwealth Popular Democratic Party argue the ballot was rigged against the current status. He has pledged to hold a constituent assembly on the status issue in 2014.
Carney said Monday that the results showed that Puerto Ricans want a resolution to their current political status — and Congress should study the issue closely.
“The people of Puerto Rico have made it clear that they want a resolution to the issue of the island's political status,” Carney told reporters.
“Congress should now study the results closely and provide the people of Puerto Rico with a clear path forward that lays out the means by which Puerto Ricans themselves can determine their own status,” Carney said.
He echoed previous statements by Obama administration that only Puerto Rico could decide on its status future.
“This administration, as you know, is committed to the principle that the question of political status is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico,” Carney said.
Any statehood petition, however, would need the approval of Congress. Congress has not considered a statehood petition in more than half a century, since Hawaii and Alaska were added as states in 1959.
Statehood advocates were cheered on Friday when the the Obama administration broke its silence on the results of the election day status plebiscite in Puerto Rico.
“This administration is committed to the principle that political status is a topic of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico,” read a joint statement issued by David Agnew and Tony West, co-chairs of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s status.
They said Puerto Rico “made it clear” it wants to resolve its political status and added that the Obama administration “will work with Congress to provide the people of Puerto Rico a clear process that would establish ways that Puerto Ricans could determine their status.”
“Besides the status question, the Task Force will continue to work with Congress, the people of Puerto Rico and its leaders to address the concerns of the four million American citizens who call Puerto Rico home, implementing the recommendations of the 2011 report to promote the creation of jobs, improve security, education and address other important education, health and clean energy goals,” the task force chiefs said.
Puerto Ricans previously have voted to remain a commonwealth in referendums issued in 1967 (60 percent) and 1993 (48 percent). In a 1998 plebiscite, the “none of the above” option won with 50 percent of the vote, followed by statehood at 46 percent. The “none of the above” option was added by the commonwealth supporting Popular Democratic Party to protest the definition of “commonwealth” on the ballot.