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All in for D.C. statehood, but what about Puerto Rico?

Gene Roman

Senate Democrats are all in for making our nation’s capital a state.

As of this week, 41 out of the Senate’s 50 democrats have signed on in support of S. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act. That includes progressive stalwarts Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren.

Puerto Rico also wants to be a state.

Fifty-two percent of the island’s residents said so in a locally-sponsored plebiscite in November 2020.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D) of New Mexico introduced the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act (S.780) this past January to affirm the island’s status choice.

“Last November, a majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood and for full voting representation in Congress,” said Heinrich in a press statement. “It is long past due for the millions of American citizens living in Puerto Rico to get the representation they deserve.”

Only three of Heinrich’s Democratic colleagues have signed on to his bill. Markey and Warren are not among them. Markey and Warren have invoked the progressive, civil rights tradition of their party in support of D.C. statehood. Why are they unwilling to give Puerto Rico the same consideration?

Both have acknowledged the democratic deficiency that plagues both the District and Puerto Rico.

“Washington, D.C. has more residents than Wyoming or Vermont, but they don’t have equal representation in Congress,” Warren said on her Twitter page.

Markey echoed that sentiment in his remarks on D.C. statehood.

“For far too long, the people of Washington, D.C. have been denied a vote in Congress. At this point, simply supporting D.C. statehood is not enough. We need bold action to ensure D.C. statehood can pass in the Senate.”

That bold action cannot even be considered without the approval of the new Senate majority leader, Charles Schumer of New York. Schumer supports statehood for D.C., but like Markey and Warren is lukewarm on Puerto Rico.

“On D.C. and Puerto Rico, particularly if Puerto Rico votes for it, D.C. already has voted for it and wants it, I’d love to make them states,” he said on MSNBC.

When 52% (655,505) of island voters voted for statehood in a referendum in November 2020, Schumer decided to move the goalposts. Suddenly, a majority of 52% was not enough to advance a statehood bill for Puerto Rico.

“There is still no consensus. There is division,” he said. “I’m waiting for a consensus to develop,” he said.

So a simple majority vote for Puerto Rico’s status choice is not enough for its statehood aspirations to be taken seriously?

Trying to nullify and discredit an election because it failed to meet an artificial threshold is a questionable proposition. Consider the following.

The U.S. Senate just passed a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill by a one-vote majority. The final vote was a 50-50 tie. Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote.

Ed Markey in 2013 won the Democratic primary in a special election for his Senate seat with 20% of the Massachusetts Democratic vote, according to the state election bureau.

Warren won the Democratic primary in her first Senate election in 2012 with 21% of the statewide Democratic vote, according to state election figures.

Using Schumer’s logic, don’t these low numbers invalidate the legitimacy of these elections?  Where is the outcry deploring the lack of a consensus or strong majority for Warren and Markey in their elections? 

We lament it when folks don’t exercise the franchise, but we shouldn’t negate the votes of those who do. Nor should we nullify the results produced by those elections.   

Why are Markey, Warren and other Democrats in the Senate eager to implement D.C.’s status preference through a statehood bill while blocking Puerto Rico’s? 

Gene Roman is a freelance reporter in NYC

Puerto Rico statehood