Puerto Rico Gov. Rosselló names Pedro Pierluisi as secretary of state, could be new governor

Some members of the Puerto Rican House and Senate are already planning on blocking Pierluisi's nomination, citing a conflict of interest.
Image: Pedro Pierluisi speaks outside of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 15, 2013.
Pedro Pierluisi speaks outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 15, 2013.Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images file

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By Nicole Acevedo

Embattled Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, whose resignation becomes effective Friday, confirmed Wednesday morning he is appointing Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia as secretary of state, thereby likely becoming his successor.

"I have selected Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to fill the vacancy of Secretary of State. To address the issue, I will be calling for an extraordinary [legislative session]," Rosselló tweeted.

His announcement comes after several legislators told Puerto Rican local media Tuesday night that Rosselló was considering appointing Pierluisi for the post.

By law, the island's secretary of state should be the one to succeed Rosselló. However, no one has been confirmed to assume the position since Luis G. Rivera Marín, who was part of the chat scandal that led to Rosselló’s ouster, submitted his resignation July 13.

Because there was no secretary of state, the next in line to take over as governor was Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez, something Rosselló had announced during his resignation message. But Vázquez had said she was not interested in the position and was facing opposition from islanders who say she's too close to the administration.

Puerto Rico Rep. Manuel Natal Albelo tweeted a letter he received Tuesday, saying that "members of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico will be summoned to an Extraordinary Session." According to Natal, the letter "anticipated that the matter to be discussed will be the appointment of the secretary of state, but the person is not identified. This is not normal," he added.

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Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, Carlos Méndez Núñez had originally called for the extraordinary session to take place on Friday afternoon.

However, Rosselló said in a statement released by Fortaleza (the governor's office) Wednesday afternoon that he convened an extraordinary session for Thursday, Aug. 1 at 11 a.m. to discuss Pierluisi's nomination.

"I trust that my fellow legislators can evaluate this appointment carefully and responsibly, for the good of Puerto Rico and the historical moment in which we live,” said Rosselló.

Some members of the Puerto Rican House and Senate are already planning on blocking Pierluisi's nomination, arguing it presents a conflict of interest since he has been working as an attorney in a law firm that represents the federal oversight board, which monitors all of the island's finances.

According to the law firm's website, Pierluisi is on a leave of absence as of Tuesday.

On a Facebook post, Pierluisi responded to the nomination Wednesday morning saying, "I have listened to the people's messages, their demonstrations, their demands and their concerns. And in this new challenge in my life, I will only answer to the people."

Pierluisi's appointment comes after roughly a quarter of Puerto Rico's population participated in unprecedented mass protests, demanding Rosselló's resignation after a several scandals, including leaked polemic chats and corruption investigations, decimated his administration.

Pierluisi had previously served as justice secretary under the administration of Rosselló's father, Pedro Rosselló, back in the 1990s.

He was also Puerto Rico's nonvoting member of Congress between 2009 and 2017 under the administration of Govs. Luis Fortuño and Alejandro García Padilla.

In June 2016, Pierluisi ran as a candidate for the governorship under the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) against Rosselló, who prevailed in the primary.

He also served as president of the PNP in 2013.

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