US lawmakers demand Puerto Rico governor resign as protests roil island

Demonstrators chant slogans as they wave Puerto Rican flags during the seventh day of protest calling for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello in San Juan, Puerto Rico July 19, 2019. Picture taken July 19, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 20 July 2019

US lawmakers demand Puerto Rico governor resign as protests roil island

  • The protests have also tapped into simmering resentment over Rossello’s handling of devastating hurricanes in 2017
  • Banging pots and pans and chanting “Ricky Resign!,” Puerto Ricans streamed into San Juan’s old city on Friday night and called on Rossello to quit over the misogynistic and homophobic messages

Several US Democratic presidential candidates and lawmakers on Friday demanded Puerto Rico’s governor step down over offensive chat messages, as thousands on the Caribbean island staged a seventh day of protests to seek his resignation.

Banging pots and pans and chanting “Ricky Resign!,” Puerto Ricans streamed into San Juan’s old city on Friday night and called on Ricardo Rossello to quit over the misogynistic and homophobic messages.

The chats, from a Telegram message group and referring mainly to politicians and officials, were published on Saturday.
The leak, running to 889 pages, added to Rossello’s woes after two former officials were arrested by the FBI last week as part of a federal corruption probe in the US territory.

The protests have also tapped into simmering resentment over Rossello’s handling of devastating hurricanes in 2017 and alleged corruption as Puerto Rico’s fragile economy struggles to recover from the island’s bankruptcy.

US Representative Tulsi Gabbard joined the protests in San Juan, saying she wanted to “stand up to corruption,” as other Democratic presidential candidates including Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren also called for Rossello to quit.

“We must stand with la isla. Rossello must resign,” tweeted US Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, whose mother was born in Puerto Rico.

The island’s nonvoting representative in the US Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez, earlier called for his resignation, while Rossello’s press secretary Dennize Perez resigned, saying she could no longer hold the position after she was called corrupt in front of her son.

“It’s your turn, Ricky,” protesters chanted on the street after word spread that Perez had stepped aside.
Rossello, who is affiliated with the US Democratic Party, has refused to step down but said he would hold an emergency meeting with leaders of Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party, which he leads.

Puerto Rico House Speaker Carlos Mendez on Friday announced the creation of an independent committee to determine whether the center-right politician engaged in illegal activity in the chats. The group has ten days to deliver its findings.

The island’s bar association published a report citing clear grounds to impeach the 40-year-old former scientist, based on the “depravity” of his messages.

The chats, revealed by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism, showed how Rossello and allies exchanged vulgar memes and comments as well as privileged information. While opposition legislators back impeachment, the process has yet to gain critical support from lawmakers in Rossello’s ruling party.

But politicians like Gonzalez are increasingly concerned about Puerto Rico’s “anarchic” image after clashes in San Juan this week and allegations the two administration officials arrested by the FBI stole government funds.

The violence and political turmoil comes at a critical stage in the US territory’s bankruptcy process. It has also raised concerns with US lawmakers who are weighing the island’s requests for billions of federal dollars for health care and hurricane recovery efforts.

“The island cannot afford to lose already approved federal resources, nor the ones we are working to obtain,” Gonzalez said in her letter to Rossello urging him to step aside.


Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

Updated 51 min 24 sec ago

Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

  • Antony Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden
  • Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America

WASHINGTON: President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team’s planning.
Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the US relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances.
In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America’s top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.
Rice would have faced significant GOP opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lacked the granular experience in managing day-to-day foreign policy issues that Blinken would bring to the job.
Biden is likely to name his Cabinet picks in tranches, with groups of nominees focused on a specific top area, like the economy, national security or public health, being announced at once. Advisers to the president-elect’s transition have said they’ll make their first Cabinet announcements on Tuesday.
If Biden focuses on national security that day, Michèle Flournoy, a veteran of Pentagon policy jobs, is a top choice to lead the Defense Department. Jake Sullivan, a longtime adviser to Biden and Hillary Clinton, is also in the mix for a top job, including White House national security adviser.
For his part, Blinken recently participated in a national security briefing with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and has weighed in publicly on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.
Biden’s secretary of state would inherit a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Trump’s two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance to the administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.
Although the department escaped massive proposed cuts of more than 30% in its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks, from which many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancements under an administration that they believe does not value their expertise.
A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School and a longtime Democratic foreign policy presence, Blinken has aligned himself with numerous former senior national security officials who have called for a major reinvestment in American diplomacy and renewed emphasis on global engagement.
“Democracy is in retreat around the world, and unfortunately it’s also in retreat at home because of the president taking a two-by-four to its institutions, its values and its people every day,” Blinken told The Associated Press in September. “Our friends know that Joe Biden knows who they are. So do our adversaries. That difference would be felt on day one.”
Blinken served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the NSC and was then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser before he moved to the State Department to serve as deputy to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Biden also is expected to tap longtime diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the US ambassador to the United Nations.
Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America. He is being watched to see whether he will make history by nominating the first woman to lead the Pentagon, the Treasury Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs or the first African American at the top of the Defense Department, the Interior Department or the Treasury Department.
Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday the Trump administration’s refusal to clear the way for Biden’s team to have access to key information about agencies and federal dollars for the transition is taking its toll on planning, including the Cabinet selection process. Trump’s General Services Administration has yet to acknowledge that Biden won the election — a determination that would remove those roadblocks.
“We’re not in a position to get background checks on Cabinet nominees. And so there are definite impacts. Those impacts escalate every day,” Klain told ABC’s “This Week.”
Even some Republicans have broken with Trump in recent days and called on him to begin the transition. Joining the growing list were Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a longtime Trump supporter, told ABC that it was time for the president to stop contesting the outcome and called Trump’s legal team seeking to overturn the election a “national embarrassment.”
Meanwhile, planning was underway for a pandemic-modified inauguration Jan. 20. Klain said the Biden team was consulting with Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate over their plans.
“They’re going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That’s our goal,” Klain said.