House members are pictured during a public hearing of the Commission of Government of the House of Representatives, called upon by the President of the House, Johnny Mendez, to attend the nomination of Pedro Pierluisi as Secretary of State, hours before Ricardo Rossello steps down as Governor of Puerto Rico, in San Juan, Puerto Rico August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Gabriella N. Baez
SAN JUAN (Reuters) – Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives on Friday approved the nomination of attorney Pedro Pierluisi as the island’s next secretary of state, potentially positioning him to take over as governor from disgraced leader Ricardo Rosselló.
Rosselló is due to resign on Friday at 5 p.m. ET, after mass street protests in July following the publication of vulgar text messages between the first-term governor and his close advisers.
The next in line for governor is Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez. She initially said she did not want the post after protesters vowed to topple her as well, owing to her links to an administration dogged by corruption scandal. On Thursday she said she would take on the post, if required.
Anger has been building for years in Puerto Rico over a series of crises including the island’s bankruptcy filing, ineffective recovery efforts after a 2017 hurricane killed more than 3,000 people and corruption scandals linked to governors.
Rosselló last week nominated Pierluisi as secretary of state, an appointment that would put him next in line to succeed Rosselló if approved by the legislature. The House voted 26 in favor of his nomination and 21 against, with one abstention. The Senate has yet to vote.
Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz sent a statement saying the House vote “deserves total respect from everyone. Now it passes to the Senate. With the greatest sense of responsibility, we will respond. Next Wednesday, the full Senate will attend. That day the matter will be resolved.”
Protesters and ruling party leaders like Schatz have rejected Pierluisi as the island’s next governor, saying his work as an attorney for the unpopular fiscal control board overseeing the island’s bankruptcy created conflicts of interest.
Some legislative leaders and constitutional lawyers have said that Pierluisi’s approval by the House would be sufficient for him to become Puerto Rico’s governor once Rosselló steps down.
Federal officials and investors are keenly watching political transition of the territory. Puerto Rico has $42.5 billion in federal disaster funding allocated to it, and its bankruptcy is the biggest ever in the U.S. municipal bond market.
Reporting by Luis Valentin in San Juan; additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; writing by Andrew Hay; editing by Scott Malone, Leslie Adler and Susan Thomas