The White House is sending mixed messages about whether it thinks Puerto Rico’s status vote should pave the way for Congress to consider making the island a U.S. state.
After three weeks of silence, representatives of the White House have weighed in three times over the last week on Puerto Rico’s status, giving different statements each time about whether a November vote on the island's status amounted to a mandate for statehood.
Luis Miranda, the White House’s Hispanic Affairs spokesman, told Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Día on Monday that the Obama administration thinks a majority of Puerto Ricans voted for statehood.
“The results were clear,” Miranda said, according to El Nuevo Día. “The people of Puerto Rico want the status issue resolved and a majority favored statehood in the second question.”
Miranda’s comments came just hours after White House press secretary Jay Carney said the vote result was unclear.
“The people of Puerto Rico have made it clear that they want a resolution to the issue of the island’s political status,” Carney told reporters, according to Politico. “Congress should now study the results closely and provide the people of Puerto Rico with a clear path forward that lays out the means by which Puerto Ricans themselves can determine their own status.”
That’s the same situation Puerto Rico’s been in for over half a century, after four referendums since 1950 that have yet to show a majority of voters favor a change in the island’s status.
Both comments diverged from the more diplomatic statement issued by the White House’s inter-agency group on Puerto Rico’s status, first reported Saturday by El Nuevo Día. The group’s co-presidents David Agnew and Tony West said they recognized Puerto Ricans are dissatisfied with commonwealth status and would work with Congress on the issue, without taking a position on whether the November non-binding referendum tilted toward statehood.
In a two-part referendum, Puerto Ricans were first asked whether they wanted to maintain their current relationship with the United States. Some 52 percent of voters said they did not. The second question asked whether Puerto Ricans wanted the island to become a state, an independent country or a freely associated state -- but not whether they wanted to remain a commonwealth. Only 45 percent of voters supported statehood, but over 480,000 voters refused to answer the question. Of those who chose to answer the question, 62 percent favored statehood.
Supporters of statehood, like outgoing Gov. Luis Fortuño, have latched on to the 62 percent figure, hoping to push their case before Congress. But the more modest 45 percent figure is consistent with the results of three other referendums since 1950 and months of polling leading up to the vote.