Puerto Rico is home to 3.3 million people — all American citizens. But they don’t receive congressional representation or presidential votes.
Some analysts also believe Puerto Rico was treated as much more of an afterthought by federal response agencies after their Hurricane Maria last year, compared to red states Texas or Florida were after their similar natural disasters. (See the Politico investigation titled How Trump Favored Texas Over Puerto Rico.)
Puerto Rico itself voted for statehood by an overwhelming 97 percent in a referendum last year — although it would still need congressional action for full approval.
What the bill does
The Puerto Rico Admission Act [H.R. 6246] would officially make the territory the 51st U.S. state, no later than 2021.
The bill was introduced by the territory’s nonvoting member of Congress, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR0).
The state would gain two U.S. senators, plus five House representativesaccording to their population, as well as presidential voting rights.
How would the state likely vote? Unlike a potential Washington DC statehood, Puerto Rico is more up in the air. Their one nonvoting member of Congress is a Republican, though their governor is a member of the New Progressive Party which is similar to the Democrats. In Puerto Rico’s 2016 presidential primaries, 61 percent of votes were for Democrats.
What supporters say
Supporters argue the legislation is only fair, considering that Puerto Ricans are technically U.S. citizens but do not have full American rights, such as voting for president.
“Now is the time. The catastrophe left behind by Hurricanes Irma and María unmasked the reality of the unequal treatment of the American living in Puerto Rico, forcing the Executive to approve waivers and Congress to make exceptions so that we could receive help,” González Colón said in a press release.
“My colleagues saw firsthand the effects of this unequal treatment due solely to our territorial situation,” she continued. “Statehood is nothing else than equality; and this Admission Act provides the means to put into effect the values of democracy and respect upon which our nation is built.”
What opponents say
Opponents inside Puerto Rico counter that residents would face higher taxes, since they are currently exempt from federal income tax.
“The cost of statehood on the pocketbook of every citizen, every business, every industry will be devastating,” Carlos Delegado, secretary of the Popular Democratic Party which opposes statehood, said to the Associated Press. “Whatever we might receive in additional federal funds will be cancelled by the amount of taxes the island will have to pay.”
Puerto Rico has a current unemployment rate of 9.6 percent — several points higher than the next-closest state of Alaska at 7.2 percent. And Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is far worse than any other state’s, too.
The White House’s stance
“I believe the people of Puerto Rico deserve a process of status self-determination that gives them a fair and unambiguous choice on this matter,” President Trump said about the issue. “The will of the Puerto Rican people in any status referendum should be considered as Congress follows through on any desired change in status for Puerto Rico, including statehood.”
This was widely interpreted to mean that Trump did not favor statehood, since if he did he presumably would have just said so outright. Even though the Puerto Rican people already voted overwhelmingly for statehood in a referendum last year, Trump only said that should be “considered” as Congress makes the final call.
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted 37 bipartisan House cosponsors: 22 Republicans and 15 Democrats.
It awaits a potential vote in the House Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT1) who has cosponsored the legislation.