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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez delivered a victory for the Puerto Rico Status Act as Speaker Pro Tempore. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

House votes yes to passage of Puerto Rico Status Act, heads safely to the Senate

A fiery House debate came to a close when the lower chamber voted to pass House Bill 8393 onto the Senate for further deliberation.

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“Today, for the first time in our nation’s history, the U.S. will recognize its role as a colonizing force,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proffered to the House floor. 

Thursday, Dec. 15, was the day Puerto Ricans waited at the edge of their seats as the U.S. House took the Puerto Rico Status Act to a vote, per a comment on Twitter by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. 

Ocasio-Cortez symbolically presided over the successful vote as Speaker Pro Tempore and will now shepherd the bill onto the Senate for one more round of debates before sending it back to the House. 

After voting concluded, Hoyer, in requesting to speak out of order, asked the Senate to work quickly and wrap up the 117th Congress before the start of the holidays.

"None of us want to be here, but we will be here," Hoyer said. 

While questions remain about whether the bill is strong enough to survive the Lame Duck session before the holidays, it marks a historic step for Puerto Ricans who have long aspired to have a voice within Congress. 

“Even though I helped write the bill (...) I still rely on the people around me because I cannot vote on the House floor," Resident Commissioner Jennifer González, a Republican, said. 

Debates were fiery, and though House Progressives worked with González to craft legislation that would break a century-long political contract, Republicans on the floor still seemed concerned about the viability of the bill. 

Some, like Rep. Bruce Westerman, argued that HB 8393 was a political ploy, and others, like Rep. Tom McClintock suggested it was a pathway into statehood, thus admitting “the most uneducated, and utterly bankrupt,” island into the Union. 

González, with no voting leverage, has a monumental undertaking in the week ahead. 

She’ll need to follow through on her 2020 campaign promise to deliver statehood to Puerto Rico after the last non-binding plebiscite vote revealed favorability for admission into the Union. 

She’ll follow in the footsteps of her predecessor, Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi, who in 2009 unsuccessfully introduced similar legislation, but failed to reach consensus on the island, prompting insecurity in the Senate. 

More than a decade later, González inherits the same insecurities, because although statehood supporters have framed HB 8393 as a binding process for decolonization, the larger truth is that the Resident Commissioner’s office is beginning a pathway into statehood. 

That goal will not sit well with Republicans who historically dispel the notion that Puerto Rico should become a state. 

For starters, if Puerto Rico is admitted as the 51st state of the nation, it will poise the U.S. Congress to absorb the mammoth $70 billion debt currently being battled in a Puerto Rico Federal Bankruptcy court presided by New York Judge Laura Taylor Swain.

The legislation will need to negotiate how the debt will play into the current budget deficits also on the table for the Lame Duck session. 

Currently, the court has dictated payments in lump sums, but an agreement is forthcoming as the Federal Oversight and Management Board creates a feasible payment plan that involves multiple Puerto Rico-based government agencies. 

González will also need to balance the idea of self-determination, given that it is inextricably linked into her overall agenda to achieve admission into the Union. 

Republicans do not favor statehood for Puerto Rico, and have made their sentiments known publicly, on multiple occasions, and most starkly during House debates. 

One instance as recent as the 2022 midterm elections, where one Senator Lindsey Graham spoke in staunch opposition to statehood amid a Herschel Walker rally, just one day before election day. 

“That dilutes our power!” he said. 

But what statehood supporters have long grasped is that any legislation marks the start of viability, making HB 8393 a highly desirable legislative agenda to bring to the next Congress, should it sink during the Lame Duck session. 

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