Pressure mounts on Biden to enfranchise DC and Puerto Rico with statehood

By Mason Quah

ACTIVISTS are hopeful that enfranchisement of DC and Puerto Rico could come under the Biden Presidency, with both territories advocating a path towards statehood.

Redaction Politics reached out to George Laws Garcia, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Statehood Council.

The Puerto Rico statehood movement is optimistic about the prospects of statehood pointing to a September speech by then presidential candidate Joe Biden.

“Statehood would be the most effective means of ensuring the residents of Puerto Rico are treated equally, with equal representation at the federal level. But the people of Puerto Rico must decide and the United States federal Government must act on and respect that decision.”

A few weeks following Biden’s speech the people of Puerto Rico did decide, with 52 per cent of voters in favour of pursuing immediate statehood.

Several of the circumstances surrounding Puerto Rico have been used to challenge the admission of states previously. Laws Garcia mentions Hawaii’s distance from the mainland and New Mexico’s large minority population. Additionally, the statehoods of Alaska and Tennessee were both delayed by congress, before eventually going through.

“One unique consideration for Puerto Rico’s admission however is the ongoing debt restructuring process currently being carried out under the 2016 PROMESA law. An admission bill for Puerto Rico would effectively abolish PROMESA, because that statute is authorized under the territorial clause of the US Constitution, so ostensibly such an admission bill might need to allow for the existing restructuring process to go forward and come to a conclusion without PROMESA.”

DC’s statehood movement has similar aspirations, calling for Biden to pass DC statehood within the first hundred days of his presidency. Similar to Puerto Rico, Washington boasts a large minority population that believe enfranchisement would begin to fix their issues.

51 for 51 Campaign Director Stasha Rhodes pointed to the Capitol Riots on January 6. “DC statehood is a racial justice issue, it is a democracy issue and it is a safety issue for the 700,000 mostly black and brown DC residents.”

Rhodes goes on to describe how the participation of armed neo-nazi groups posed a threat to the people of DC, but the Mayor’s request for National Guard intervention was denied. If DC had statehood, it would have greater control over its own security.

51 for 51 advocates for Biden and Congress to enact DC statehood within the first hundred days of his presidency. The Senate majority held by the democrats is the narrowest possible and likely to be lost during midterm elections. For this reason, both DC and Puerto Rico statehood movements desire a quick resolution that cannot be repealed by later opposition.

The order in which the two populations could be granted statehood is up to debate. Puerto Rico has a much larger population, and greater public support outside of their territory. DC has the stronger media coverage and benefits from its position in the American mainland.

The Puerto Rico statehood Council believes that DC statehood would pave the way for them to follow, with Laws Garcia telling Redaction “I don’t think you can have a serious discussion about DC statehood in the US Congress without giving due consideration to Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico and DC have both applied for and been denied statehood on multiple previous occasions, but the backing of a president and the control of both houses by the democrats confers the best chances these movements have had up to now.

The outcome will be determined by Biden’s willingness to commit to the course and whether the Senate filibuster can be circumvented or stopped. Vice President Kamala Harris told a town hall meeting in 2019 that she supported bypassing the filibuster to pass DC statehood, describing the situation as “taxation without representation”.

The political slogan still carries weight more than two hundred years after the American Revolution. The same words were used by suffragettes fighting for the enfranchisement of women. President Bill Clinton famously affixed license plates bearing the slogan to the presidential limousine, which were subsequently removed by George Bush.

Previous presidents have in this way signalled their support or opposition to the DC statehood movement, but Biden is the one who could through on enfranchising these US citizens. The American population are watching the new president to see whether his campaign promises were rhetoric or commitments.  

Featured Image: Pixabay

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