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Lame Ducks Flock To White House

by Lance Oliver

June 2, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

If Bill Clinton can’t come up with a "legacy," aside from being the only elected U.S. president ever impeached and not screwing up the century’s longest, uninterrupted economic expansion, then he’ll settle for pieces of legacies here and there. Including Puerto Rico.

That’s one way to look at this week’s announcement that the White House will host a meeting on Puerto Rico’s political status sometime within the next two months. Clinton would like to be remembered for making progress, at least, on ending Puerto Rico’s centuries-old colonialism, even if the memory would last mainly in Puerto Rico. So would Clinton’s 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 Rico’s 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 Calderón’s 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 island’s 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 Rico’s 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 there’s 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 won’t 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 Rico’s 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 president’s directives on Vieques and in return Clinton promises action on the status issue so dear to the governor’s 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 Rosselló’s payoff, it was a small one. No matter how many lame ducks flock together, they aren’t 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:

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