Puerto Rico Legislature delays vote on Pedro Pierluisi, possible successor to governor

The uncertainty on the island heightens less than a day before the embattled governor officially leaves office.
Image: Pedro Pierluisi at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on July 19, 2012.
Pedro Pierluisi at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on July 19, 2012.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call file

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By Nicole Acevedo

Uncertainty reigned in Puerto Rico on Thursday as the island’s Legislature delayed confirmation of a new secretary of state who could succeed embattled Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

Rosselló, whose resignation becomes effective Friday at 5 p.m., had chosen Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia as secretary of state to fill the vacancy left by Luis G. Rivera Marín — who submitted his resignation on July 13 after he came under fire for his involvement in the chat scandal that led to Rosselló’s ouster.

By law, the island's secretary of state should be the one to succeed Rosselló. But if Pierluisi is not confirmed before Rosselló officially steps down, Puerto Rican law establishes that Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez would take over as governor. But Vázquez has emphasized her disinterest in the position.

In an extraordinary legislative session on Thursday, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz said Pierluisi should not be governor, because he's an attorney at a firm that is "representing Puerto Rico's No. 1 enemy," referring to the federal oversight board that monitors all of the island's finances.

Rivera Schatz and other legislators say it presents a conflict of interest.

However, Rivera Schatz then proceeded to say that Pierluisi could possibly become the island's new governor anyway, since he was sworn in as secretary of state on Wednesday night. In the end, Rivera Schatz delayed Pierluisi’s confirmation hearing to next week.

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His remarks sparked skepticism among legislators who insist that Pierluisi has to be confirmed by the Legislature.

This gave a glimpse of a possible conundrum that could take place in the days to come if no clear successor is in place by Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, House of Representatives President Carlos Méndez Núñez called Pierluisi in for a public hearing on Friday at 9 a.m. for a possible vote on Pierluisi's nomination.

After the extraordinary session, many Puerto Rican lawmakers anticipated that Pierluisi might not have the votes to be confirmed.

If Pierluisi does not receive enough House votes before Friday at 5 p.m., the Senate’s hearing won’t be necessary, said Méndez Núñez during a press conference.

He clarified that Pierluisi would have to win enough votes in both the House and the Senate in order to be confirmed as the island’s new secretary of state and eventually step up as the governor.

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.

Skepticism over who will be the next governor continues to grow and small protests persist as the island’s decimated administration still struggles to make an orderly transition hours before Roselló's resignation becomes official on Friday.

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