Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Disarray after Senate postpones secretary of State confirmation hearing

By on August 1, 2019

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, at lectern, delivers remarks on the chamber’s floor. (CyberNews)

Lawmakers decry process, question
decision to move hearing to Monday

SAN JUAN — Minority Popular Democratic Party (PPD) senators vehemently expressed their disapproval of Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz’s move to postpone a vote to confirm Gov. Ricardo Roselló’s newly sworn in secretary of State, Pedro Pierluisi. 

After majority New Progressive Party (NPP) senators formally presented Pierluisi’s appointment for the chamber’s consideration, Rivera Schatz argued that the secretary of State had many questions to answer, particularly those related to his work as a part of the Financial Oversight and Management Board’s legal team. The Senate president then urged Sen. Nelson Cruz (NPP-Ponce) to withdraw his motion to proceed with a vote so that the hearings could be scheduled for Monday. Cruz accepted the request.

The Senate president also warned that Pierluisi did not have enough votes, including his own, in the parliamentary majority to be confirmed. Despite saying Pierluisi has a right to defend his “honor,” Rivera Schatz assured he didn’t expect to change his mind after the hearing, in part because the nominee, he said, was the lawyer who fought for the board when the legislature fought several of its austerity measures.

During his turn on the floor, the Senate president was adamant that the current issues regarding Rosselló’s resignation and his succession were not created by the lawmakers, and echoing Sen. Miguel Romero’s (NPP-San Juan) remarks, argued that lawmakers should be allowed to voice their concerns with Pierluisi’s appointment.

Rivera Schatz seemed to be responding to questioning by some of the senators regarding why the hearing had to be moved to Monday when the chamber was convened for Friday, saying that Pierluisi had yet to submit several documents and that new information was still arriving.

Rivera Schatz later said Pierluisi’s nomination will be evaluated by the “full committee” Monday at 11 a.m. so “all senators” can ask questions.

“Only a few days from his departure [Rosselló] designated the lawyer Pedro Pierluisi as Secretary of State, expecting then that the Legislative Assembly address such an important matter in such a hasty fashion,” the Senate president said. He later argued that there was no constitutional crisis because, being a recess appointment, Pierluisi was already sworn in as secretary of State.

Puerto Rico’s Constitution allows the governor to make appointments while the legislature is in recess and for those appointments to be temporarily sworn in until the legislature is back in session and able to evaluate the nomination. 

For their part, the PDP senators maintained that postponing the hearings was only extending the political instability that Puerto Rico has experienced for the past few weeks and that come Friday at 5:01 p.m., Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez would have to be sworn in as governor, as stated in the law. 

The fact that, for example, at-large PDP Sen. Rossana López questioned on the Senate floor and during an impromptu press conference the Senate president’s motivation to postpone the hearings until Monday rather than proceeding and voting Friday, doesn’t mean that Pierluisi necessarily had the endorsement of the chamber’s minority.

“I can’t give a blank check; this is not an NPP primary,” the PDP’s president, Sen. Aníbal José Torres, said after denouncing that the majority delegation was making the Senate treat a political crisis as a constitutional one. 

Also arguing that the current nomination and succession issues stemmed from internal NPP issues, Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. Juan Dalmau said: “I do not participate in internal matters of the NPP, just like I do not allow [people from other parties] to intervene in matters of my party.”

Dalmau also addressed the elephant in the room, which is that Pierluisi was appointed by Rosselló not to serve as a secretary of State but to be his successor when his resignation becomes final Friday afternoon. 

“Today we have come to choose a governor,” said Dalmau at the beginning of the special session, and proceeded to criticize the process for not having “real options” and rebuking the legislature for not considering the possibility of amending the law to allow for a special election. 

Add to the theatrics, Pierluisi himself tweeted that he was available and hoped to have the opportunity to answer the legislators’ questions and concerns, and then arrived in the Capitol and witnessed from the chamber’s press gallery Rivera Schatz’s 30-minute speech denouncing the developments that led to this point and questioning Pierluisi’s “loyalties.”

The House of Representatives scheduled a session for Friday at 9 a.m. to evaluate Pierluisi’s nomination.

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