Connecticut’s U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy were among a group of congressional leaders to back legislation Wednesday that would empower residents of Puerto Rico to vote on the island’s political status.
Blumenthal and Murphy appeared alongside Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi and other proponents of the Puerto Rico Status Act during a mid-day press conference in Washington D.C.
The bill would resolve the island’s current territory status through a binding vote that would allow its residents to choose between statehood, independence or sovereignty in free association with the United States.
During the press conference, Blumenthal and Murphy cited Connecticut’s thriving Puerto Rican community.
“It shouldn’t shock anyone that you have both of Connecticut’s senators here today,” Murphy said. “We are home to more than 288,000 Connecticut residents with Puerto Rican descent– the highest density of Puerto Rican heritage anywhere in the country and we are damn proud of that.”
Lawmakers in the House passed a version of the bill last year, prior to the current Republican majority retaking control of the chamber. Supporters in the House have reintroduced the proposal this year.
Wednesday’s press conference occurred just two days after Senate proponents introduced their own version of the bill. Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s Governor, praised those supporters during the news conference.
“The senators co-sponsoring Senate Bill 3231 have all decided to be on the right side of history and answer the call to provide full democracy to the more than 3.2 million American citizens in Puerto Rico in accordance with the U.S. Constitution,” Pierluisi said.
While the legislation leaves Puerto Rico’s eventual status up to the island’s residents, Blumenthal said he favored the statehood option. He described feelings of despair in the weeks after Hurricane Maria left much of the island without power in 2017 and again in 2020 when an earthquake devastated its infrastructure.
“What I have seen is a failure of the United States to do justice to fellow Americans,” Blumenthal said. “If Puerto Rico were a state, there’s no way that the president would be tossing towels instead of providing real relief to people or Puerto Rico in the wake of natural disasters. The people of Puerto Rico need and deserve voting members in the United States Congress.”
Although the participants in Wednesday’s press conference were Democrats, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D- New Mexico, said it would be “unwise” to view Puerto Rico’s future through a “partisan lens.”
“One of the things we’ve learned around previous debates around statehood in particular is that oftentimes when states come in and everyone assumes they’re always going to be Republican or they’re always going to be Democrat and then the voters prove themselves to be independent,” Heinrich said.