The U.S. Congress has agreed with President Obama on authorizing a plebiscite in Puerto Rico on the territory’s ultimate political status.
The final approval came Thursday night with the U.S. Senate’s passage of a bill to provide funding for most discretionary Federal programs through September 30th. Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.
Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission would be given $2.5 million for a plebiscite if its proposed status option or options would resolve the question of the territory’s ultimate status and are found by the U.S. Department of Justice to not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.
The possible options are U.S. statehood, independence, and nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end. The vote could be on one or more of these options.
The current territory status could not be an option because it cannot “resolve” the question of Puerto Rico’s ultimate status. As long as Puerto Rico is a territory, Puerto Ricans can seek statehood or nationhood.
Although the current status is often misleadingly called “commonwealth” after the name of the insular government, a “Commonwealth” proposal would not qualify for the plebiscite because, as Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status has pointed out, Puerto Rico would remain subject to congressional authority under the Constitution’s Territory Clause under any “Commonwealth” proposal (that is not statehood or nationhood).
Obama proposed the plebiscite because the “Commonwealth” party governor and legislative majorities of Puerto Rico elected in November 2012 disputed the results of a plebiscite held the same day under insular law. Fifty-four percent of the vote was against continuing territory status and 61.2% was for statehood among the possible alternatives. Nationhood options split the rest of the vote, with 33.3% for nationhood in an association with the U.S. and 4.5% for full independence.
The Obama Administration had supported the 2012 vote, and the President’s spokesman said afterwards that the results were “clear:” Puerto Ricans voted to resolve the question of the territory’s ultimate status (choose statehood or nationhood) and a majority chose statehood.
Concerned that lobbying by Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla against the statehood petition could result in congressional inaction on the self-determination decision of Puerto Ricans, the White House proposed another plebiscite under U.S. Justice Department auspices. The Justice Department role would make it more difficult to dispute the results.