Departing Puerto Rico governor to swear in Pierlusi

Author: DÁNICA COTO/ Associated Press
Published: Updated:
Proposed Secretary of State Pedro Pierluisi speaks during his confirmation hearing at the House of Representatives, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Friday, August 2, 2019. As Gov. Ricardo Rossello is expected to leave office in a few hours, the Puerto Rican House of Representatives is expected to vote on Pierluisi’s confirmation Friday afternoon. If he is rejected, Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez automatically becomes governor as the next in the order of succession, even though she has said she would unwillingly accept the job. (AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo)

The latest on Puerto Rico’s political crisis (all times local):

4:10 p.m.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló says he is resigning and swearing in veteran politician Pedro Pierluisi as his replacement.

In an emailed announcement from his office, Rosselló says Pierluisi does not need confirmation from both houses of the territory’s legislature because he was named secretary of state, the next in line to be governor, in a recess appointment this week.

The statement says Pierluisi will be sworn in to complete Rosselló’s term, but it does not say exactly when. Rosselló had promised to resign at 5 p.m. Friday, a few minutes before the statement was sent.

Puerto Rico House confirms Pierluisi as secretary of state

BREAKING: Puerto Rico’s governor says he is resigning and swearing in veteran politician Pedro Pierluisi as his replacement

Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives voted Friday to confirm Pedro Pierluisi as secretary of state, removing an important obstacle to the veteran politician becoming governor with an hour to go before Ricardo Rosselló was expected to step down.

The House voted 26-21, with one abstention, to confirm Rosselló’s nominee and potential successor. The legislature, which is controlled by Pierluisi’s New Progressive Party, erupted into cheers when the deciding vote was cast.

But Pierluisi’s fate remains unclear. The secretary of state is next to line for the governor’s chair when the chief executive resigns. However, the issue of who is rightfully governor is almost certain to go to court.

Rosselló was due to step down at 5 p.m., a resignation he promised in response to weeks of popular protest over mismanagement, and a series of leaked chats in which he and advisers denigrated a range of Puerto Ricans.

If Pierluisi, 60, does not become governor, the position is taken by Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez, who is not widely popular and already is the target of protests.

The down-to-the-wire maneuvering risked political chaos and a constitutional crisis and sowed bitterness and pessimism among Puerto Ricans about the fate of their island, which has been battered by years of bankruptcy and Hurricane Maria in 2017, one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

Only days ago, there was jubilation over the success of the popular movement to force Rosselló out of office over mismanagement and a series of leaked chats in which he and advisers denigrated a wide range of Puerto Ricans.

“People are disgusted with the government in general, not just Ricardo Rosselló, everyone,” said Janeline Avila, 24, who recently received her degree in biotechnology.

Hundreds of protesters marched to the governor’s residence, the Fortaleza, banging pots and drums and singing the national anthem.

The demonstrators chanted “Ricky, get out! You didn’t quit, the people fired you!”

Some lawmakers and officials believe that because the legislature was not in session when Pierluisi was appointed, he’s already secretary of state unless the legislature rejects him.

Others argue that he still needs to be confirmed by the House or both the House and Senate.

One constitutional amendment states that everyone in line to become governor has to be confirmed by both House and Senate, except for the secretary of state.

Constitutional law professor Carlos Ramos and other legal experts questioned the legal validity of that amendment and believed Pierluisi must be confirmed by the House and Senate because the amendment contradicts the intent of the constitution and its statement of motives.

Lawmakers and Pierluisi himself expressed concern that the continuing political uncertainty would damage Puerto Rico’s efforts to get federal funds to recover from the hurricane and confront the economic crisis.

Several legislators have accused Pierluisi of a conflict of interest because he worked for a law firm that represents a federal control board overseeing the island’s finances, a body that has repeatedly clashed with local officials over demands for austerity measures.

Pierluisi, whose brother-in-law is the board’s chairman, tried to dispel those concerns in his opening remarks.

“Who better than me to advocate for our people before the board? Who better than me to facilitate the process that will force the board to leave? That is what we all want,” he said.

The board was created by Congress to oversee the restructuring of more than $70 billion in public debt after Puerto Rico declared a form of bankruptcy.

Pierluisi told lawmakers he is against several austerity measures demanded by the board, including laying off public employees and eliminating a Christmas bonus.

He said he supports public-private partnerships and the privatization of the island’s public power company.

“The people want a change, and I don’t blame them,” he said.

A key obstacle for Pierluisi has been Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, who has said he would not vote for Rosselló’s nominee and wants to run for governor himself next year. Several legislators have said they prefer Rivera Schatz over Pierluisi, but the Senate leader is a powerful figure deeply associated with Puerto Rico’s political and business elite, and his elevation to the governorship could re-ignite popular outrage.


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