Pedro Pierluisi is expected to be sworn in as governor today, after Ricardo Rosselló's resignation became official at 5:00 p.m.
After a lengthy public hearing, the House of Representatives held a vote, in which they confirmed Pierluisi to become Secretary of State and therefore replace Rosselló. Pierluisi was confirmed with 26 votes in favor, which was the required minimum, 21 in opposition, and one absentee vote.
The confirmation requires approval from both legislative bodies but the Senate will not hold a public hearing until August 7, previously scheduled for Monday, August 5. Even with the House's approval, Pierluisi is expected to require a positive vote in the Senate, but there are various legal interpretations at play.
Thomas Rivera Schatz, the president of the Senate, wrote on his Facebook account that the House's decision "deserves total respect from everyone. Now [the decision] passes over to the Senate. We will attend this with the upmost responsibility."
"Next Wednesday (August 7), the Senate will attend this. That day, the issue will be resolved. Puerto Rico FIRST. Make no mistake," he said.
However, Constitutional Professor Carlos Gorrín Peralta explained that any public notary or judge could hold the oath; that is, the Supreme Court is not required to do it, although it receives a written notification.
Two hours before Rosselló's resignation was to become official, the judicial branch had not received any communications from the Executive in regard to the new governor's oath.
Throughout the hearing and voting session in the House of Representatives, Rosselló only used his social media accounts to share news about measures he had signed into law and other efforts, with no mention of his pending resignation.
However, a few minutes before his resignation became official, Rosselló explained that Art. 7 of the Constitution establishes that it is not necessary for the secretary of State to be confirmed to replace the governor.
"The Department of Justice clarified in its hearing before the Legislature when that law was amended in 2005, that the constitutional text does not require the confirmation and that, in the case of an emergency, said requirement should not be necessary. That clarification was accepted by the Legislative Assembly," the former governor said.
Now that Pierluisi is to be sworn in, this issue can be taken before Court to determine its legality.
Earlier in the House hearing, Pierluisi made it clear that his only intention is to become governor by line of succession and not Secretary of State.
“The question was that if the Courts established that I could not assume the role of the governor if I would remain as secretary of State, and I said no, that I would resign because my real aspiration has not been to become secretary of State; that was within the context of a replacement for the governor,” he explained to reporters after the hearing ended.
The Constitution provides that the Secretary of State is the first official in the line of succession to replace the governor. Because Luis Rivera Marín resigned from this position amid the "TelegramGate" scandal, the next in line was Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez.
Last Sunday, Vázquez wrote on her Twitter account that she had no desire to replace Rosselló, and would only do so in accordance to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Distances himself from Oversight Board's austerity measures
Early Friday morning, the House held a public hearing to allow Pierluisi to address some concerns by the legislators of this body. In the hearing, the representatives shared unease over Pierluisi's former job in the O'Neill & Borges law firm, which provided advisory services to the Financial Oversight & Management Board (FOMB).
Rep. Milagros "Tata" Charbonier said to Pierluisi, "all your answers... have employed a language of utter submission to the [FOMB]."
Pierluisi, however, affirmed that his work with FOMB was strictly related to the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (Promesa)—the federal law that created the financial entity—and not the latter's proposed austerity measures on the island's fiscal plan.
One such measure is to eliminate the Christmas bonus to public employees. Several representatives asked if he approved of this government cut, to which Pierluisi affirmed that he is against that budget slash, adding that he favors the holiday compensation for employees in both the public and private sectors.
Regarding education, he stated that the government has already closed too many public schools, and would only favor more closures in the event of a population decline due to emigration.
As the events unfolded on Friday, protesters took to the Fortaleza and Cristo streets in Old San Juan to continue their call for Rosselló's resignation.
"We are calling for people to come here to send off one of the most corrupt governments that this country has had," a spokesperson of the University of Puerto Rico's Brotherhood of Non-Teaching Employees said.
As the clock marked 5:00 p.m., protesters roared triumphantly, taking collective pride in the result of their ongoing demonstrations.