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PolitiFact FL: DeSantis backed a bill drafting a path for Puerto Rico statehood

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shakes hands with fairgoers after taking part in a Fair-Side Chat with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds at the Iowa State Fair, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Jeff Roberson
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shakes hands with fairgoers after taking part in a Fair-Side Chat with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds at the Iowa State Fair, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

A TV ad in Iowa from a political action committee supporting former President Donald Trump tells voters that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has "sold out" conservatives.

"Liberals have a plan to make Puerto Rico a state, adding two Democrats to the Senate. And Ron DeSantis sided with the liberals’ power play," MAGA Inc.’s ad said. "DeSantis actually sponsored the bill to make Puerto Rico a state. With more power, liberals can pack the courts, pass more reckless spending, ban guns and give amnesty to illegal aliens."

Puerto Rico has been under U.S. control since 1898. Puerto Ricans can’t vote for president and don’t have representation in the U.S. House or Senate despite being U.S. citizens. Puerto Rico has one resident commissioner in the House who can vote only in the congressional committees.

PolitiFact found that DeSantis, who’s vying for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, co-sponsored a 2018 bill that established a process for a path to statehood for Puerto Rico.

MAGA Inc.’s ad said DeSantis "sponsored" the bill, which can give the impression that he authored the bill, but he did not.

READ MORE: PolitiFact FL: Ron DeSantis didn’t ban displaying Puerto Rico’s flag in public

DeSantis supported bill that outlined path for Puerto Rico’s statehood

MAGA Inc.’s ad cites the 2018 bill and a 2022 Newsweek article about a subsequent version of the bill. (DeSantis became Florida governor in 2019.)

As a congressman, DeSantis was one of 58 co-sponsors of H.R.6246, the Puerto Rico Admission Act of 2018, which established a process to allow the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico to become a state.

When Puerto Rico's resident commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon introduced the bill, she said that it charted the path for statehood by Jan. 1, 2021.

The bill had the support of 32 Democrats and 26 Republicans, including 12 co-sponsors from Florida evenly split between both parties.

Florida is home to more than 1.1 million Puerto Ricans. Florida lawmakers courted Puerto Ricans in 2018 after tens of thousands moved there after Hurricane Maria devastated the island territory.

"We are going to be taking the case to the Puerto Rican community because you know what? They serve in our military more than almost anyone as a group, they care about education, they work as hard as anybody," DeSantis said in June 2018 as he ran for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, according to The Associated Press. "They are natural Republicans."

Bryan Griffin, a DeSantis campaign spokesperson, said the 2018 legislation "didn't grant or take a position on Puerto Rican statehood; it clarified the process by which statehood would be granted to ensure it was subject to the will of the American people and a full congressional vote."

Griffin cited a line in the bill that said: "Congressional intent — The enactment of this Act expresses the intent of Congress to pass legislation based upon the Task Force’s final report."

The bill called for a task force to research whether any U.S. laws should be amended or repealed, recommend economic measures to assist Puerto Rico, propose timelines for federal elections and study how Puerto Rico’s statehood would affect the House. 

The bill also said that after Congress received a final report from the task force, "Puerto Rico will cease to be an unincorporated territory of the United States" and be admitted "into the Union as a State no later than January 1, 2021."

Versions of the bill in 2022 and 2023 haven't been made into law, either.

Griffin did not respond to PolitiFact’s question about DeSantis’ current position on statehood. The New York Times reported in October that DeSantis sounded skeptical about broadly granting statehood to U.S. territories.

Republican party platform called for statehood for decades

The national Republican party platform has supported Puerto Rico’s statehood as far back as 1940. (Many of the platforms specified statehood if the residents wanted it.) T

rump has flip-flopped on statehood for Puerto Rico. He supported it in 2016,but two years later, as he feuded with a mayor in Puerto Rico over the federal government’s hurricane response, Trump said he was an "absolute no."

Florida’s U.S. senators, Republicans Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, supported statehood in 2018, the year DeSantis co-sponsored the House bill. 

Admitting Puerto Rico as a state would likely increase the number of Democrats in the House and add two Democratic senators, said Jorge Duany, Florida International University’s director of the Cuban Research Institute, an academic research center.

"Whether that number would alter the balance of power in Congress is an open-ended question, depending on the preexisting share of congressional Republicans and Democrats," Duany said.

Our ruling

A MAGA Inc. ad said DeSantis "actually sponsored the bill to make Puerto Rico a state."

DeSantis co-sponsored a 2018 bill that outlined steps that Congress could take to make Puerto Rico a state by 2021. He was not the bill’s original sponsor or author — he was one of dozens of co-sponsors from both parties. The legislation outlined several steps a task force needed to take before statehood could occur.

DeSantis’ current stance on this issue is unclear.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

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