Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is learning what happens when you challenge Marco Rubio.
In December, Rosselló called out Rubio by name because he was unhappy with the Republican tax bill and said he would campaign against those who “turned their backs” on the U.S. territory.
Now, the Florida Republican who is often regarded as Puerto Rico’s most important advocate in Washington, is throwing cold water on Puerto Rican statehood and is urging Rosselló, a Democrat who won election in 2016, to spend more time governing in San Juan than campaigning in Florida. Rubio’s comments in Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper are a blow to Rosselló’s hopes for Congress to act on statehood, his party’s most important policy issue.
“If I were the governor of a state or territory that does not have power, I would spend more time [there] than in Orlando,” Rubio said to El Nuevo Día. “Sometimes, when people feel criticized and under pressure, they look for someone to blame, because they did not achieve this or that. I do not think it is smart to turn the Puerto Rican issue into a partisan issue.”
Rubio’s comments come after Rosselló was in Washington last week to announce a Puerto Rican “shadow delegation” of two U.S. senators and five U.S. House members who demand to be seated in Congress. Puerto Rico’s “shadow delegation” is attempting to gain statehood through a similar plan successfully adopted by Tennessee in the late 1700s and copied by other states like Alaska.
Rosselló’s shadow delegation was a 2016 campaign promise, but the effort is getting more attention after Puerto Rico’s power grid was destroyed by Hurricane Maria and thousands on the island are still without power months later.
“Certainly the hurricane has had an influence,” said Pedro Rosselló, Ricardo Rosselló’s father and the governor of Puerto Rico from 1993 to 2001, in an interview with the Miami Herald.
Pedro Rosselló said the hurricane and the federal government’s slower response compared to disaster recovery efforts in Florida and Texas has raised the profile of the statehood issue.
“Stateside, U.S. citizens recognize that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, natural born,” Rosselló said. “That wasn’t so before [Hurricane Maria]. Before, our polling shows that about 25 percent recognize that fact, after that it’s up in the 85 percent level. That’s a direct result of the hurricane.”
But while Rubio hasn’t changed his longtime position supporting statehood, a public admission that there aren’t 60 votes for statehood in the U.S. Senate is a blow to Ricardo Rosselló’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party.
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