New Puerto Rico statehood bill faces long odds in Congress

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Puerto Rico has been an American territory since the close of the 19th Century, and Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917. And now a group of lawmakers in the U.S. House is saying the time has come for statehood.

"It's time to end 120 years of colonialism," Rep. Darren Soto, D-Florida, said. "And it's time for Congress to finally make Puerto Rico a state."

Soto introduced a bill on Thursday that would do just that. It has the full support of Puerto Rico's non-voting Republican representative, Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon.

"This is not a left or right issue. This is an issue of civil rights," Gonzalez Colon said. "This is an issue of the American people—the unfinished business in American history."

The renewed call for statehood in the House comes after President Trump this week reportedly told Senate Republicans he opposed sending more disaster relief money to the island territory, which is still recovering from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

"Our Republican friends are going to have to tell Donald Trump his cold, cruel-hearted, and divisive policy of not giving any of the aid, not letting any of the aid that's been already allocated to Puerto Rico, to be distributed there, must fall," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said on the Senate floor.

Outside the Capitol, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said the hurricanes showed why statehood is necessary.

"3.3 million U.S. citizens are disenfranchised, don't have the power to vote, don't get equal resources, and are treated with injustice," Rosselló said. "That is simply unacceptable in the modern times."

But last year, Trump rejected statehood so long as the island's leaders remained critical of his administration.

"Puerto Rico shouldn't be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they're doing," Trump told Geraldo Rivera in September 2018.

Trump's highly personalized position contrasts with previous Republicans who occupied the Oval Office.

In 1993, Presidents Ford, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush took to the airwaves to urge Puerto Ricans to vote for statehood in an island-wide referendum.

"There's much Puerto Rico can contribute to our nation, which is why I personally favor statehood," President Reagan said at the time. "We hope you will join us."

Only 46.6 percent of Puerto Rican voters supported statehood in that 1993 referendum.

The number jumped to 97 percent in a June 2017 referendum but a boycott from statehood opponents resulted in a historically low turnout.

That plus most Republicans' reluctance to add to the nation a new state that votes heavily Democratic makes the current push for statehood a long shot in Congress.