Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, and Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, helped broker the agreement among Puerto Rican officials, lawmakers who support statehood for the island and lawmakers who have argued that the United States should back a self-determination process for the island.
“This bill being on the floor today was far from assured,” Mr. Grijalva said on Thursday, noting that changes were still being negotiated about 24 hours before the vote. He added, “I am proud to be discussing a piece of legislation, a proposal today that assists the people of Puerto Rico to directly be involved in determining their political future.”
Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, Democrat of New York and the first Puerto Rican woman to be elected to the House, declared that “the voices of boricuas are now finally being heard” as she listed Puerto Rican women who had climbed the ranks of American government and society and continued to champion the island.
“It is an embarrassment to the United States — the United States that holds itself up as a leader of the free world, that stands up to the imperialist tyrants abroad, while keeping colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific,” she said. “Congress has the moral obligation to provide the necessary tools to transition to a new, postcolonial order.”
But Power 4 Puerto Rico, a coalition of diaspora organizations, urged lawmakers to vote no, calling the bill a statement “a Trojan horse” that “offers only a fraction of information masquerading as decolonization and tramples over the right of Puerto Ricans to full transparency and a fair process.”
Several Republicans also opposed the measure, with some lawmakers criticizing the Democratic majority for excluding them from the final days of negotiations and arguing that there were unresolved questions about the role of the United States in helping the island transition to the voters’ chosen outcome.
“Just as we would expect the people of Puerto Rico to deliberate its questions, understand its consequences and accept responsibility for the choice, so should Congress,” said Representative Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, the top Republican of the Natural Resources Committee. He complained of a “hasty and secretive process” that deprived lawmakers of the opportunity to weigh in on the bill.