The House on Thurs­day approved the Puer­to Rico sta­tus bill (H.R.2499) by a 223–169 vote after a gru­el­ing full day of debate on the island’s past, present and pos­si­ble future role in its rela­tion­ship with the Unit­ed States.

But, in a major change in the bill, the com­mon­wealth option was giv­en a sec­ond chance if vot­ers reject­ed the cur­rent status.

The Democ­rats car­ried the day for the mea­sure as 184 of the party’s law­mak­ers vot­ed in favor. They were joined by 39 Repub­li­cans. Those opposed to the bill includ­ed 129 Repub­li­cans and 40 Democrats.

A total of 57 Repub­li­cans had signed on as co-spon­sors. Appar­ent­ly 18 either changed their minds and vot­ed against the bill, or did not vote at all.

The big change came about when an amend­ment by Rep. Vir­ginia Foxx, R‑Texas, was approved that would put the com­mon­wealth on the sec­ond plebiscite as one of four options, along with state­hood, inde­pen­dence and free association.

Under the bill, intro­duced by Res­i­dent Com­mis­sion­er Pedro Pier­luisi, a sec­ond plebiscite will be held if vot­ers say in a first ref­er­en­dum that they want a change in the cur­rent U.S.-Puerto Rico relationship.

It was unclear at press time how com­mon­wealth would qual­i­fy for the sec­ond bal­lot if in the first vote, a major­i­ty decides it wants to change that status.

A last-minute motion, had it passed, would most like­ly have killed the Pier­luisi bill. The motion, which includ­ed an Eng­lish-only amend­ment and a gun pro­vi­sion in the mea­sure, was defeat­ed by a nar­row 198–194 count.


The change was filed by Rep. Doc Hast­ings, R‑Wash., the rank­ing minor­i­ty mem­ber of the House Resources Com­mit­tee, which approved the bill last year. Hast­ings tried to amend the bill so that Eng­lish would be the one and only offi­cial lan­guage of a Puer­to Rico state, and gun laws would be lib­er­al­ized if and when the island joined the Union.

The gun pro­vi­sion was added to get the votes of the many Democ­rats who back any leg­is­la­tion that includes lib­er­al­iza­tion of gun laws—possibly out of con­vic­tion, but also out of fear that their gun-own­ing con­stituents would not return them to office.

The House also accept­ed a mild lan­guage amend­ment filed by Reps. Dan Bur­ton, R‑Ind., and Don Young, R‑Alaska,

The amend­ment says that under state­hood or com­mon­wealth Puer­to Rico should be treat­ed as all oth­er states on fed­er­al lan­guage require­ments and that the teach­ing of Eng­lish should be pro­mot­ed on the island.

Pier­luisi hailed the sta­tus vote out­come. He said it meant that “truth and democ­ra­cy has won out over fear, mis­in­for­ma­tion and [polit­i­cal] paralysis.”

He said pas­sage of the mea­sure makes him con­fi­dent that the Sen­ate will take up the bill “with the same prin­ci­ple of jus­tice and demo­c­ra­t­ic rights …”

The debate and votes, which began at about 10 a.m., with a one-hour pause, did not wind up until just before 7 p.m. The prin­ci­pal play­ers argu­ing on the floor in favor of the bill were Pier­luisi and Resources Com­mit­tee Chair­man, Nick Rahall, D‑W.Va., while state­side Puer­to Rican Reps. Nydia Velázquez, D‑N.Y. and Luis Gutiér­rez, D‑Ill., both of whom argued long, hard and pas­sion­ate­ly against the measure.

Gutiér­rez made Puer­to Rican patri­ot argu­ments against the bill, which he saw as “rigged” in favor of state­hood. He said the one indis­putable right that the Puer­to Rican peo­ple had was the “inalien­able right” to have the island become an inde­pen­dent nation.

He said Puer­to Rico was a “nation of peo­ple” and said, appar­ent­ly tongue-in-cheek, that he would sup­port state­hood if the island were allowed as a state to have its own Olympics team and its own one offi­cial Span­ish lan­guage. “Would Con­gress approve that?” he asked.

In attempt­ing to show that there is lit­tle inter­est in Eng­lish on the island, he said that the only dai­ly news­pa­per in Puer­to Rico that has gone bank­rupt and been forced to close was the Eng­lish-lan­guage San Juan Star. He did not men­tion the exis­tence of the Puer­to Rico Dai­ly Sun.

Velázquez, and the bills oth­er oppo­nents, empha­sized that Puer­to Ricans had turned down state­hood in three pre­vi­ous plebiscites and insist­ed that “eco­nom­ic issues must be addressed first” for the well-being of the island.

She called the alleged skew­er­ing of the bill for state­hood and against com­mon­wealth “appalling, deceit­ful and shameful.”

The two Puer­to Rican law­mak­ers had intro­duced five amend­ments, all of which were struck down. These includ­ed pro­pos­als to elim­i­nate the first com­mon­wealth yes-or-no plebiscite, to orig­i­nate any sta­tus change from the Puer­to Rico gov­ern­ment, to add the option “none of the above” to a sta­tus vote, to only make Eng­lish-lan­guage bal­lots avail­able upon request and to allow all state­side Puer­to Ricans to vote in the plebiscites, instead of those born on the island and liv­ing in the states.

The prin­ci­pal debaters were joined by some 20 or so oth­er House mem­bers who had their say dur­ing the debate.

One of the most impor­tant and staunchest defend­ers was House Major­i­ty Leader Ste­ny Hoy­er, D‑Md., who made a last-minute plea in favor of the legislation.

Mayagüez-born, Bronx-raised Rep. José Ser­ra­no, D‑N.Y., made a strong plea for the leg­is­la­tion. He said he sup­port­ed it because it “begins a process,” and that the process would be fair. Ser­ra­no said island res­i­dents were very knowl­edge­able, sta­tus-wise, and “no one in Puer­to Rico will be forced to vote for state­hood, unless they want it.”