Puerto Rico’s fight for greater self-government got a boost in the House of Representatives this week. The House passed a bill for a referendum on three potential futures.
However, the measure has little chance of being taken up by the Senate, meaning this is likely where the bill ends.
The Puerto Rico Status Act outlines terms for a binding referendum on the three options: full independence, U.S. statehood, or sovereignty with formal U.S. association, similar to the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.
The bill’s original sponsor is Rep. Raul Grijalva (D), who said whether the measure gets a vote in the Senate or not, it will establish “an important historical precedent” for Puerto Rico.
Grijalva said the legislation “tells the people in Puerto Rico, our fellow U.S. citizens, that this election is going to be aboveboard and the consequences are going to be aboveboard.”
Republicans argued against the bill because it did not offer the option of maintaining the status quo. They complained it was a distraction as a U.S. federal government shutdown looms tonight unless lawmakers approve a funding measure.
Puerto Rico is currently a U.S. territory. Its residents are citizens of the United States, but do not have any kind of voting representation in Congress, and cannot vote in presidential elections.
Puerto Rico, which has about 3.3 million people and high rates of poverty, became a U.S. territory in 1898. Activists have campaigned for greater self-determination including statehood for decades.
There have been six referendums on the topic since the 1960s, but they were non-binding.
There is only one week left before Congress breaks for the holidays.
It has sent lawmakers scrambling to pass bills. In the Senate, lawmakers are trying to pass two major bills funding the military and the government more broadly.
Unless the Senate takes action on the Puerto Rico bill this month, the legislation will expire. It is anticipated that it is highly unlikely that the Senate will take it up, leaving the bill dead on the floor.
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