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Puerto Rico’s brand new governor faces constitutional challenge

Pierluisi will be new governor of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló said on Aug. 2, 2019 he was handing power to Pedro Pierluisi, his recently appointed secretary of state.
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Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló said on Aug. 2, 2019 he was handing power to Pedro Pierluisi, his recently appointed secretary of state.

Puerto Rico’s new governor — in power less than three days — didn’t make it through the weekend without seeing his leadership challenged.

Late Sunday, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said the Senate had filed a lawsuit declaring his administration unconstitutional.

“Although it is regrettable that this matter has to be dealt with in our courts, I hope that it will be treated with the greatest urgency and diligence for the good of the people of Puerto Rico,” he said.

Pierluisi was sworn in on Friday after former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló stepped down amid a corruption scandal and the outrage that erupted after it was revealed that he used misogynistic and homophobic language in a private chat group with 11 of his advisers and confidants.

Thousands of Puerto Ricans celebrated on July 25, 2019, a day after governor Ricardo Rosselló announced that he will be stepping down effective August 2.

But Pierluisi’s path to power was challenged from the start. Pierluisi was appointed to secretary of state — and therefore the first in line of succession — on Wednesday. But under Puerto Rico’s constitution he needed approval from both chambers of the legislature to take office. On Friday the House of Representatives approved him, but the Senate delayed its vote to this week.

Even so, Rosselló appointed him governor at 5 p.m. Friday, relying on a 1952 law that was amended in 2005. The Senate is now questioning the validity of that law.

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Pierluisi had hoped to avoid a prolonged legal fight by offering to step down if he wasn’t approved by the Senate and allowing Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez to take his place. She is next in line of succession.

Despite the court challenge, the Senate may still vote on the succession matter as early as Monday.

The political turmoil comes as the U.S. territory of 3.2 million people is trapped in a deep financial and debt crisis and struggling to recover after the devastating 2017 hurricane season.

On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration — citing corruption fears — may place new restrictions on about $8.3 billion dollars in federal aid to the island that are part of a Housing and Urban Development disaster mitigation program.

Pierluisi, who was Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives for eight years, or resident commissioner, has said he’ll use his connections on Capitol Hill to speed up aid.

“We don’t have time to lose,” he said Sunday. “The hard work of rebuilding our island after the onslaught of Hurricane Maria, improving the fiscal situation of our government, making our economy continue to grow, and restoring the credibility of Puerto Rico cannot stop.”

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