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Puerto Rico's governor Pedro Pierluisi in San Juan in August 2019. Photo: Alejandro Granadillo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Puerto Rican statehood, supported by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, has been a long-standing goal for some Democrats and championed by progressives as a way to grant the island self-determination.

Where it stands: Puerto Rico has held six non-binding referendums on its status, including becoming a U.S. state, since 1967. Residents most recently voted in favor of statehood last November. Both of Pierluisi's predecessors, Wanda Vázquez and Ricardo Rosselló, also supported statehood.

The big picture: Recent crises and natural disasters have boosted calls for statehood.

  • Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 hurricane, caused over 3,000 deaths as the worst natural disaster to hit the island to date. Rosselló asked former President Trump to consider statehood on the anniversary of the lethal storm, saying that territory status impeded recovery.
  • The island has held $72 billion in debt for years, but can't file for bankruptcy as cities or counties in the U.S. mainland can. Some voters in Puerto Rico's 2017 plebiscite expressed hope that statehood could allow the government to provide relief.

How it works: Any change in Puerto Rico's status would require congressional approval, which has been a significant roadblock.

  • The island's current governor, as well as its last two, have all been part of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party.
  • Puerto Rico's other major political party, the Popular Democratic Party, advocates for keeping the status quo as a self-governing unincorporated U.S. territory.
  • Choices on past referendums have included statehood, the status quo, or independence from the U.S. Only 1.5% of voters chose independence in 2017, the last time the question was specifically asked.
  • 2020's referendum on statehood simply asked "Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted into the Union as a state?" 52% of voters said "yes."

Between the lines: Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz) told NBC News last year that if Puerto Rico gained statehood, Republicans would "never get the Senate back again."

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell while campaigning in Kentucky in August listed the island's statehood as proof of Democrats' extreme agenda.
  • The Republican Party of Puerto Rico supports statehood, and Puerto Rican statehood is a part of the Republican National Committee platform.

What to watch: The island's top officials are optimistic that they can build support for statehood in the House but realize the bill would face an uphill battle against Republicans in the Senate, where Democrats hold a 50-50 split with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote.

  • A spokesperson for House Natural Resources Committee chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told the Hill in late January that he plans to hold a hearing on Puerto Rico statehood "early in this Congress."
  • During the presidential campaign, Biden said he would work with Puerto Rico officials who support "each of the status options" for the island's political future.

Go deeper

Stephen Breyer formally announces retirement from Supreme Court

Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Justice Stephen Breyer on Thursday sent a letter to President Biden formally announcing his retirement from the Supreme Court.

What he's saying: "I enormously appreciate the privilege of serving as part of the federal judicial system ... I have found the work challenging and meaningful," Breyer said.

COVID created an epic U.S. trade gap

Chart: Axios Visuals. Data: Census Bureau/Bureau of Economic Analysis

The details of the blockbuster fourth quarter GDP report released Thursday morning tell a vivid story of how the underpinnings of the world economy have been reshaped by the pandemic.

One example: In the arithmetic around U.S. economic output, trade acted as a more severe drag last year than it has in a generation.

Updated 1 hour ago - Technology

Pandemic gave cover to online dating scams

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Crooked Casanovas used online dating scams to steal an estimated $500 million from lonely victims last year, according to a new analysis of government fraud data by Atlas VPN, an internet security provider.

Why it matters: The isolation of the lingering pandemic provided cover to fraudulent suitors who had an excuse for not meeting up in person even as they fleeced their would-be lovers out of gift cards, money — even cryptocurrency.

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