President Donald J. Trump, who announced today that both he and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19, affirmed last night on Fox News that "a lot of Puerto Ricans don't want statehood," just over a month before the island's residents vote on the political status referendum with yes/no options for statehood.
"A lot of Puerto Ricans don’t want statehood. They’re doing better the way it has now, frankly," Trump said in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity.
The statement comes at a time when multiple State and federal leaders are urging to either annex or separate Puerto Rico to/from the U.S. mainland. While Puerto Ricans have a U.S. citizenship and use the same currency, the island's residents are not allowed to vote on the presidential elections, nor do they have access or fund parity on essential services, such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Medicare, among others.
On Nov. 3, voters will get a say on whether or not they want statehood, although the plebiscite is not endorsed by the federal government and is unlikely to set forth a transformation on the political status.
In past referendums, statehood has gathered support. In 2012, 53 percent voted against keeping the current Commonwealth status and 61 percent voted for statehood. In 2017, 97 percent voted for statehood, although there was low voter turnout in that last plebiscite.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY)—both of whom co-wrote the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020—and Trump's rival for the general elections, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, have affirmed that they would support statehood if that's the will of Puerto Rico residents. While some Republican officials have expressed their support, such as Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), the Democratic Party has more members who are vocal about their approval.
Moreover, the president opined that Democratic sponsorship for a decolonization process for Puerto Rico is a ploy to secure a greater presence in the Legislature by catering to voters should the Commonwealth become a state.
"They want to put two or three states. So they want to have 53, right? 53. What’s the flag going to look like? Right, Sean? What’s the flag going to look like? They want to have 53 or 52? Depending on what they do, I guess they could probably do even more than that. We have islands all over the place," the president stated.
Furthermore, he warned that if Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories became states, the islands' voters would lean Democrat. "Republicans can’t win those states, although I’ve been better to Puerto Rico than any other president. I’ve given them a lot of help. But if you take a look at what’s happening, they’re not good to Puerto Rico, but I’ve been good to Puerto Rico. I have a great relationship to Puerto Rico," Trump said.
Pro-Statehood Officials React
Rep. Jenniffer González (R-PR), the island's resident commissioner in the U.S. Congress and president of the Puerto Rico Republican Party, disavowed the Trump's statements and urged him to "clarify his comments regarding statehood."
"Since 1940, the Republican Party has included Puerto Rico statehood in its platform. The President should abide by it & respect the will of the people of Puerto Rico and should stand by his written commitment in 2016 in favor of statehood if Puerto Rican’s [sic] so voted in a plebiscite. The People [Puerto Rico] refused the current colonial status in 2012, & have voted consistently in favor of statehood. It is wrong to say we are satisfied with the current status. [Trump] should clarify his comments regarding statehood & acknowledge the RNC Platform he endorsed," she wrote on two tweets.
the People of 🇵🇷 refused the current colonial status in 2012, & have voted consistently in favor of statehood. It is wrong to say we are satisfied with the current status. @realDonaldTrump should clarify his comments regarding statehood & acknowledge the RNC Platform he endorsed— Jenniffer González (@Jenniffer2012) October 2, 2020
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez, who is currently in the state of Florida supporting the Trump re-election campaign, stated in Spanish through her Twitter account: "Puerto Rico rejected the territorial colony in 2012 and 2017, when we favored Statehood between non-territorial options. But if there is any doubt, in the plebiscite of November 3 it will be very clear and definitively that Puerto Rico DOES want statehood." Both Vázquez and González are members of the New Progressive Party (NPP), the pro-statehood political collective.
At the time of this writing, NPP gubernatorial candidate Pedro Pierluisi had not commented on the matter. Pierluisi, a Democrat, has based a significant amount of his campaign and platform on achieving statehood, urging voters to select "yes" on the upcoming referendum. Save for Isabela Mayor Carlos "Charlie" Delgado Altieri and Sen. Juan Dalmau—who want the Commonwealth status and independence, respectively—the other gubernatorial candidates, Dr. César Vázquez, Alexandra Lúgaro, and Eliezer Molina, their parties or campaign are not based on Puerto Rico's status, although some, such as Lúgaro, have denounced the Commonwealth.
Correction: This article has been amended to clarify that Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Velázquez are not necessarily overt proponents of statehood, but would support the transition if the island's residents expressly voted for that political status.