Puerto Rico Senate denies newly sworn gov its consent
Supreme Court gives chamber, Pierluisi and AG until noon Tuesday to present arguments
SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rico Senate ended Monday the special session convened by former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to consider the nomination of Pedro Pierluisi as secretary of State, putting an end to the possibility of Pierluisi receiving the constitutional requirement of consent from both legislative chambers.
In his floor remarks, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz argued that it was up to the Supreme Court to decide whether Pierluisis was legitimately next in the gubernatorial line of succession, adding that, regardless, the Senate was not yet prepared to vote on Pierluisi’s confirmation because the new La Fortaleza executive mansion tenant never submitted all the documents required of cabinet nominees.
“The Senate did not confirm Pierluisi [as secretary of State], his swearing-in as governor is null, and it is my duty to take this issue to the Supreme Court,” Rivera Schatz said when beginning his statement during the special session, where he also argued that “the Senate needs to be respected and Pierluisi can’t say one day that he will come [to the confirmation hearing] and the next day that he would not.”
Pierluisi’s ascension to the governor’s office is shrouded in allegations of illegitimacy and unconstitutionality because at the time of Pierluisi’s swearing-in as governor his confirmation process as secretary of State was incomplete. Pierluisi had only received the confirmation of the House of Representatives, despite article 4, section 5 of Puerto Rico’s Constitution establishing that a secretary of State needs the advice and consent of both legislative bodies.
While Pierluisi contested Friday that as governor it would make no sense to go to the Senate’s confirmation hearing, he hoped the upper chamber would “ratify his incumbency,” adding during his first press conference at La Fortaleza that if the Senate voted against him, he would step down.
Pierluisi echoed Rosselló’s last official statement, saying he was already secretary of State because the governor can make appointments while the legislature is in recess.
After Monday’s session ended, Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. Juan Dalmau argued that although he would have preferred an explicit vote, it was clear that the Senate rejected Pierluisi’s nomination as secretary of State and that, “without a doubt,” if Pierluisi wanted to fulfill the “political promise” he made Friday, he should resign.
“The thing is that the secretary of State, to be considered secretary of State [on a permanent basis], needs the advice and consent of both chambers. The secretary of State, Pedro Pierluisi, didn’t receive the advice and consent of the Senate,” Dalmau stressed.
Pierluisi argued in a statement that there was no rejection because there was no vote and that the proper course of action was to wait for the Supreme Court’s decision.
“I acknowledge that the Puerto Rico Senate has brought a lawsuit to challenge my swearing-in as Governor and that it now seeks to have the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico resolve the matter,” Pierluisi said.
“Given that today the Senate did not cast a vote and that the vast majority of the Senators did not have the opportunity to express themselves concerning my governorship, with the utmost deference to the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, I will wait for its decision, trusting that what is best for Puerto Rico will prevail,” he added.
Although only a few senators asked for turns to speak, most speeches were against Pierluisi. In his turn, the Senate president said that Pierluisi had four votes in favor of his confirmation Thursday, and that even though he gave mayors and Pierluisi time to “make calls” and “lobby,” there was but one more senator ready to vote in his favor Monday. “He needs 15 and he only has five,” Rivera Schatz said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Miguel Romero argued that the Senate should have held the vote because it would bring stability and the Supreme Court could take it into consideration during its deliberation.
On Sunday night, the Senate sued Pierluisi and the government of Puerto Rico, requesting Pierluisi’s swearing-in as governor be declared null. The Supreme Court gave the Senate, Pierluisi and the attorney general until noon Tuesday to present their arguments.
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