president of the National Lawyers Guild and associate counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.
Part 2 of a discussion about the upcoming U.S. Senate vote to to set up a federally appointed control board with sweeping powers to run Puerto Rico’s economy to help the island cope with its crippling debt crisis. The bill, known as PROMESA, passed the House last week by a bipartisan vote of 297 to 127. In the Senate, Robert Menendez and Bernie Sanders have led the opposition to the bill. But a big question looms over how Elizabeth Warren will vote. Juan González gives an update, and we speak to Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan of the National Lawyers Guild.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the U.S. Senate is set to consider a bill this week or early next week to create a federally appointed control board with sweeping powers to run Puerto Rico’s economy to help the island cope with its crippling debt. The bill, known as PROMESA, passed the House last week in a bipartisan vote of 297 to 127. In the Senate, Robert Menendez, Dick Durbin and Bernie Sanders have come out against the bill, and any one of them could filibuster the legislation.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about this issue, we’re joined by Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, president of the National Lawyers Guild, associate counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. Her latest piece for The Huffington Post, "The United States Makes the Case for Why Puerto Rico is Still Its Colony."
But before we go to Natasha, Juan, you just talked about the key people in the Senate, like Dick Durbin and Bernie Sanders, who have come out against the bill. One of the people who’s sort of really the central focus in the spotlight of the presidential race now, you know, the possibility of would she be chosen as a vice-presidential candidate for—along with Hillary Clinton, is another progressive, and that’s Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, and Elizabeth Warren has made numerous statements blasting Wall Street and the banks for their role in the Puerto Rico crisis, but she has now gotten remarkably silent over what she will do in the Senate when this bill comes up, and we’re talking about in the next week or so. This bill, the administration, the White House and the Republican leadership and the Democratic leadership have all said the bill has to be passed by June 30th, because July 1 is the deadline for Puerto Rico to have to pay another $2 billion, and if it doesn’t—it’s not going to pay that money, and that’s going to trigger enormous numbers of lawsuits by creditors. So they want to get this bill done in the next two weeks. And what I’m told by numerous labor unions, who are opposed to the bill because of the—especially because of the drop in the minimum wage that would occur in Puerto Rico, the precedent that that would set for lowering the federal minimum wage, is that suddenly Elizabeth Warren’s office has stopped returning their phone calls, as they try to marshal a coalition to stop the bill in the Senate.
Bernie Sanders has a competing legislation. He is introducing a new legislation that would bring in a federal funding—a, basically, mandate that the Federal Reserve and the Treasury begin to support Puerto Rico in its funding situation and actually put up backup credits for Puerto Rico. But there’s still the possibility of a filibuster in the Senate. And if it’s only Sanders and Menendez, then most likely there will be a cloture vote to get 60 senators to cut off debate. If it’s—if it’s Elizabeth Warren and some of her other allies in the Senate, it could be a lot tougher to stop the debate. So Warren’s position is very key. But some people are worried that she’s now thinking about her VP possibilities.
And obviously Hillary Clinton is very much—she is a supporter of this bill. The White House is supporting this bill. And it’s really a Democratic bill being pushed by Republican leaders, because the vote—the majority of the votes in the House came from Democrats for this bill, not from Republicans. And so, it’s bipartisan to the degree that those who want to assure that there’s an orderly unrolling of the debt of Puerto Rico are all behind it.
And I’m just wondering, Natasha, what you think, from a legal standpoint, opponents of the bill, what alternatives they have in terms of what would be the next step that people could get behind in terms of stopping this control board.
NATASHA LYCIA ORA BANNAN: Well, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of options, besides the introduction of new legislation or looking at Senator Sanders’ legislation and expanding upon it, because it doesn’t necessarily include all of the restructuring possibilities that it could.
I think your point around Senator Warren is really timely, I mean, if you look at Senator Warren’s position on this issue and how she questioned Treasury officials in hearings several months ago and was probably one of the most outspoken members of the Senate at that time to question why Treasury’s position and the position of the Obama administration was that they could not provide any direct financial relief, the way that the Treasury had done during the actual bailout in 2007 and 2008 of federal—of financial institutions. And so she was extremely critical of that position and really believed that there needed to be full restructuring possibilities for Puerto Rico, and has not hinted that she would support the federal control board, at least at that time. And it’s what you said. I mean, many of us are opining now.
There’s a lot of support in Congress for this bill. I understand that the Republican majority is pushing this bill and pushing this bill to be voted on as close as possible to July 1st to limit discussion on the bill and to move it towards the floor so that there can’t be a full discussion about what provisions are really problematic, such as the imposition of the federal fiscal control board. Because the Supreme Court has spoken in the past week and essentially said that Puerto Rico has no sovereignty, it has no ability to enact its own domestic bankruptcy provisions and protections, that Congress is ultimately the only body that can decide the economic and political future of Puerto Rico, it really is in Congress’s hands.
AMY GOODMAN: In March, Senator Elizabeth Warren joined other senators and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the famed Tony-winning play, Hamilton, joined him in a call to action to tackle Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: The government has closed over 150 public schools in just the last five years. The only children’s hospital on the island keeps slashing its budget. With a population of three-and-a-half million people, Puerto Rico has one children’s hospital. And right now it has 70 nursing vacancies. Think about what it means to run a hospital when you’re short 70 nurses. This hospital does not even have an MRI machine. Think what that would mean for the care your children receive. One municipality lost its water supply for days because contractors wouldn’t repair a broken valve until they could figure out how they were going to get paid. A gasoline supplier has threatened to shut off deliveries to ambulances and police stations on the island. No government should be in this position. If Puerto Rico were a country, it would go to the IMF. If Puerto Rico were a city, it would declare bankruptcy under Chapter 9. But Puerto Rico can do neither, because of inaction right here in the United States Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Senator Elizabeth Warren in March, and she’s standing with Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand, the two senators from New York. She’s standing with Lin-Manuel Miranda, the famed playwright and singer and actor of Hamilton. Juan, the difference between March and now?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I guess Senator Warren would argue that there hasn’t been a change in her position, because many of the Democrats who are backing this bill are saying this is the only chance to restructure, to get some kind of restructuring authorization for Puerto Rico. And so, she would argue, as Nydia Velázquez is arguing, as Raúl Grijalva is arguing, that this bill has many objectionable aspects, but it’s the best thing we’re going to get in a Republican-controlled Congress, and the possibility of going to July 1 and having chaotic legal battles over seizing Puerto Rico’s assets is not worth the risk.
Other people believe you’ve got to take that risk, that, in essence, the only way that the creditors and Congress will be forced to provide a bill that is more favorable to democracy in Puerto Rico is to go through that crisis, not pay July 1 the $2 billion, and then see what happens in the weeks that go forward, because many believe—and I agree with them—that no judge is going to order the government of Puerto Rico to stop paying its police, stop funding its schools, in order to pay creditors, that no judge will do that, and that, in essence, what you’re facing is a showdown between Wall Street and the people of Puerto Rico.
AMY GOODMAN: Natasha Bannan?
NATASHA LYCIA ORA BANNAN: That’s exactly right, Juan. I think what most people find objectionable about this legislation is not the provisions that could to a restructuring mechanism. People pretty much unanimously agree that that’s needed. It’s what that restructuring provision is tied to: the reduction in labor protections, the imposition of a federal fiscal control board, which fundamentally undermines any semblance of democracy on the island, that is essentially a super-legislative, super-executive power that would be able—that would not be accountable to anyone, nor is elected by the people of Puerto Rico, and wouldn’t be accountable to anyone in Puerto Rico, instead has to give reports to Congress. It’s the way that the legislation has been restructured that has been sold to the people of Puerto Rico: "This is the best option you’re going to get. And if you want any access to a restructuring mechanism, particularly now, because you have no ability to enact your own bankruptcy protections, then you’re going to have to accept these other extremely problematic provisions that really deepen the colonial relationship Puerto Rico has with the United States." And the people in Puerto Rico have been very clear and said, "We refuse that. We refuse to negotiate under this distress."
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, one of the things Carmen Yulín, the mayor of San Juan, told me, because she’s part of a coalition opposed to the colonial control board, that they’re planning on June 25th a major massive gathering at a big stadium in Puerto Rico. And then, from that point on, they’re going to begin massive civil disobedience across the island in opposition to the control board. So, this—
NATASHA LYCIA ORA BANNAN: Which just started yesterday. I mean, there was civil disobedience yesterday.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right, there were some protests yesterday in the capital, in Puerto Rico, by the students. But this is going to be a broader—a broader effort to get the population, the people of Puerto Rico, to begin weighing in on the situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will leave it there, but of course continue to follow it in this—these absolutely key two weeks. Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, president of the National Lawyers Guild, associate counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, we’ll link to your piece at The Huffington Post, "The United States Makes the Case for Why Puerto Rico is Still Its Colony." And, of course, Juan. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
To see Part 1 of our discussion along with the mayor of San Juan, go to democracynow.org. Thanks for joining us.