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PUERTO RICO REPORT
Lame Ducks Flock To White House
by Lance Oliver
June 2, 2000
If Bill Clinton cant come up with a "legacy," aside from being the only elected U.S. president ever impeached and not screwing up the centurys longest, uninterrupted economic expansion, then hell settle for pieces of legacies here and there. Including Puerto Rico.
Thats one way to look at this weeks announcement that the White House will host a meeting on Puerto Ricos political status sometime within the next two months. Clinton would like to be remembered for making progress, at least, on ending Puerto Ricos centuries-old colonialism, even if the memory would last mainly in Puerto Rico. So would Clintons stalwart supporter, Gov. Pedro Rosselló. Therefore, a White House meeting is on the agenda for this swampy Washington summer.
The trouble with this scenario is that it is hard to imagine how Clinton can accomplish anything at all in regards to Puerto Ricos political status.
In Washington, Rosselló told reporters about the plans for the meeting, which the White House reportedly plans to hold with or without the participation of the Popular Democratic Party. On one hand, if they PDP stays away, it risks cementing its reputation in Washington as the "none of the above" party. But on the other hand, the cost of the air fare to send a delegation might be better spent at home on Sila Calderóns campaign for governor.
There are several reasons why a White House status "summit" is unlikely to be fruitful. Most fundamental among those reasons is the fact that the president is not a key player in terms of policy toward Puerto Rico in modern times. If there is a battle in Washington over the islands status, it will be fought in Congress. The president matters only to the extent he can sway votes and whether or not he will sign any bill that might someday come out of Congress.
If the president is of secondary importance on status issues in the best of times, it must be remembered that these are among the worst of times, in terms of presidential authority. Clinton is as lame as any duck ever was. His party has a minority in Congress and the majority is very hostile to his slightest suggestion. His own vice president, and would-be heir, is running while keeping his distance and periodically disagreeing with his boss, as the Elián González case showed.
So given that scenario, what is likely to come out of a White House meeting on status? Pages and pages of transcripts that will be argued about and analyzed and criticized and archived in Puerto Rico and will be mostly ignored in Washington, D.C. and totally ignored in the 50 states.
Whatever this administration does, the next will not follow up on it. Even if Al Gore is the next president, he will not act on Puerto Ricos status based on what the Clinton White House did. And if George W. Bush wins in November, he will be absolutely certain not to follow any suggestions linked to the Clinton administration.
Then theres Congress. Obviously, there is no way a Puerto Rico status bill could be considered by this Congress. If some members of Congress do participate in this meeting, it will be members of the same group that is always interested and involved when Puerto Rico issues arise. The 500-plus other members, the ones whose votes would actually decide the fate of any status bill, will be campaigning for re-election (or election, for non-incumbents) and wont hear a peep or care a bit about an obscure and ultimately academic discussion of colonialism taking place back in D.C.
As a result, the discussion will be followed by those who have no hope of acting on it and will be ignored by those who will have the ability to address the future of Puerto Ricos political status.
Of course the PDP take on all this is that lame duck Rosselló and lame duck Clinton struck a deal: Rosselló forgets his "ni una más" vow and agrees to support the presidents directives on Vieques and in return Clinton promises action on the status issue so dear to the governors heart.
Whether such a deal exists or not, I do not pretend to know. The governor and the White House deny it.
If this status meeting was Rossellós payoff, it was a small one. No matter how many lame ducks flock together, they arent going to change which way the wind is blowing.
Lance Oliver writes The Puerto Rico Report weekly for The Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached by email at: email@example.com.