Rep. Torres on supporting Puerto Rico statehood: 'Statehood means a seat at the table'

New York Congressman Ritchie Torres joined the Yahoo Finance Live panel to talk the new Puerto Rico statehood bill, in addition to President Biden signing the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan.

Video Transcript


SEANA SMITH: President Biden signing the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package into law today was a day earlier than we initially expected. Here to talk a little bit more about this, we want to bring in Congressman Ritchie Torres. He represents New York's 15th district. We're also joined by our reporter, Reggie Wade, who's joining the conversation.

But congressman, it's great to see you. Thanks so much for hopping on here on Yahoo Finance. We're excited to talk with you. I want to start with what President Biden has said about this bill, and he says that it gives essential workers, the working people who built this country and the people who keep this country going, a fighting chance. I'm curious, just, in your words, what you think this bill will do for your constituents.


RITCHIE TORRES: I share the sentiments of President Biden. The American Rescue Plan is a historic investment in the essential workers and families of America. The centerpiece of the American Rescue Plan is an expanded child tax credit, which will cut child poverty in half. I represent the South Bronx, which is said to be the poorest congressional district in America. And I can tell you, there's no single policy that will do more to lift the South Bronx out of poverty than an expanded child tax credit.

REGGIE WADE: Congressman Torres, Reggie Wade here. We know another initiative that is very near and dear to your heart is Puerto Rican statehood. And you're an advocate for the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Act. Could you tell us a little bit about that, and how do you think statehood would impact Puerto Rico's economy?

RITCHIE TORRES: Yeah, so, you know, a wise person once said, if you do not have a seat at the table, then you're probably on the menu. And in the United States, statehood means a seat at the table. It would mean billions of dollars in new resources, as well as representation for Puerto Rico. It would mean two US senators and five members of Congress. It would mean billions of dollars in funding for critical programs like Medicare and SNAP and higher education and infrastructure.

My view is that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. And so, why not make them equal citizens under the law? Like, the best solution, the only solution to inequality, is equality, which can only be conferred by statehood. And I see the colonization of Puerto Rico, I see the disenfranchisement of three million Americans on the island to be a deep rot at the very core of American democracy.

I mean, how can we claim to be a democratic society, when we deny the fundamental right to vote to three million American citizens? How can we claim to be democratic when we subvert the government of Puerto Rico in favor of a financial control board that is neither representative of nor accountable to the people on the island?

ADAM SHAPIRO: Representative, what would the process be, assuming that it does pass in the House? Could a filibuster in the Senate stop statehood from becoming a reality for Puerto Rico?

RITCHIE TORRES: The filibuster as configured could prevent a statehood from succeeding in the Senate, but Senator Joe Manchin has expressed a willingness to make the filibuster, quote, "more painful" and to reform it. And there's a long history of beating exceptions to the filibuster. One of those exceptions is the reconciliation process. So I'm cautiously optimistic that we have more momentum than ever for Puerto Rican statehood.

And it's worth noting, what matters is not my opinion. What matters is not the opinion of any member of Congress. What matters is the will of the people on the island. The people have spoken. In November of 2020, a majority of the Puerto Rican electorate cast their ballot for statehood. And when the people have spoken, we in Congress have an obligation to legislate what the people voted for. That is self-determination. That is democracy. That is decolonization.

REGGIE WADE: Congressman, your colleagues, Nydia Velazquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in the summer of 2020, introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act. How does that differ from the legislation that you're proposing?

RITCHIE TORRES: I have a difference of opinion with them. I think their legislation ignores the will of the Puerto Rican electorate as expressed in a plebiscite. It's not the place of the United States Congress to micromanage the manner in which the people of Puerto Rico make their own decisions. If the people of Puerto Rico decide to express their political will through a plebiscite, we should respect it. We should legitimize the results of the plebiscite, rather than delegitimize a process, simply because we disapprove of the results that it produces.

And keep in mind, if Puerto Rico had statehood, there would be no financial control board, right? PROMESA, which established a financial control board, deprived Puerto Rico of self governance. It deepened the crisis of colonialism on the island.

SEANA SMITH: Congressman, I want to ask you-- I guess, it's a two-part question here-- about the child tax credit. You were saying earlier that it was the most important-- one of the most important parts of this $1.9 trillion tax deal. Is that enough? And I know you're looking to extend this and make it permanent. Is this something that you think will be able to reach across the aisle and get some Republicans on board with? Because bipartisanship, we know President Biden has been focused on it. Yet, we haven't really seen it reflected within his first 50 days.

RITCHIE TORRES: Look, there is broad support for the child tax credit. There's bicameral bipartisan support. Having said that, the best opportunity to make permanent the expansion of the child tax credit could be a second reconciliation bill. So I'm more concerned with the outcome than I am with the optics of bipartisanship.

For me, it would be profoundly inhumane and cruel to lift millions of children out of poverty only to plunge them back into the abyss. So we have an obligation to make permanent the expansion of the child tax credit. I'm partnering with Congress members Rosa DeLauro and Suzan Delbene to advance the American Family Act, which would permanently expand the child tax credit. And President Biden himself has come out in favor of a permanent expansion.

REGGIE WADE: Congressman Torres, with all the division and the rancor within Congress and the US government, what are some of the things that you're hopeful for, going forward?

RITCHIE TORRES: I'm thankful that Joe Biden is the President of the United States. And we have a president who's treating the COVID crisis with the seriousness that it deserves, and we have a president which is focused on governing effectively and delivering for the American people. The magnitude of the American Rescue Plan is hard to overstate.

And it represents to me a transformation of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is no longer the party of draconian welfare reform. We are the party of families and children. We, as a party, have returned home to our roots, as the party of FDR. And that's exactly where we should be, and that's where the American people are.

SEANA SMITH: Congressman Torres, great speaking with you. Thanks so much for hopping on Yahoo Finance. We look forward to having you back again in the future. And of course, our thanks so much to Reggie Wade for bringing us this interview.