This was a vote on passage of legislation requiring Puerto Rico to hold a referendum on whether to become a state, an independent nation, or a sovereign entity that "freely associates" with the United States -- or continue its current status as commonwealth (territory). (The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is currently a territory of the United States. Since it is not a state, Puerto Rico lacks representation in the United States Senate. While Puerto Rico does elect a delegate to the House, that delegate lacks the full voting rights enjoyed by House members from the 50 states.)
The bill provided that the referendum determining Puerto Rico’s future would take place in two stages. First, voters would choose between maintaining the status quo, and changing the nature of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States. Specifically, voters could choose between the following two options: “(1) Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of political status. If you agree, mark here XX. (2) Puerto Rico should have a different political status. If you agree, mark here XX.”
If a majority of voters chose the second option – to change Puerto Rico’s political status – a second referendum would be held. That referendum would allow Puerto Ricans to vote for independence, statehood, free association, or continuing its current commonwealth status.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) urged support for the bill: "Puerto Rico …is a showcase of democracy in the Caribbean. Having some of the highest voter turnout rates in our nation, Puerto Rico shames many of our own States with its energy and enthusiasm in electing its leaders. Economically, it is a powerhouse in the Caribbean and considered a home away from home for many mainland Fortune 500 companies….We are here today on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives because, in spite of what we have gained from each other, there has been no ultimate achievement in Puerto Rico's political status, which really is the greatest commitment the U.S. has to all of our territories."
Rep. George Miller (D-CA) also praised the bill: "This legislation does not bind future Congresses. H.R. 2499 doesn't require the federal government to create a Puerto Rican state, nor does it force us to work toward Puerto Rican independence. This bill simply asks the citizens of Puerto Rico whether they want to remain a U.S. territory in their current status or whether they would prefer another political status. And if it turns out they favor another political status, another vote would then be authorized to determine which status option they prefer."
Rep. Doc Hastings urged members to oppose the bill: "H.R. 2499 is the wrong way to go about achieving statehood…This bill has the process entirely backwards. This bill is a bill asking Puerto Rico if it wants to be a State, not the other way around. This is a dramatic departure from the long-established precedent of how other states sought admission to the Union."
Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) also expressed opposition to the bill: "This legislation is designed to push the statehood agenda, regardless of whether that agenda is the best solution for the island or even among the people….I tell you that this legislation has no business being on the floor today. It raises a host of questions. It has zero probability of becoming law. However, it does place Members in the awkward position of explaining why they are meddling in Puerto Rico when a request from Puerto Rico has not even been made."
The House passed H.R. 2499 by a vote of 223-169. 184 Democrats -- including a majority of the most progressive members -- and 39 Republicans voted "yea." 129 Republicans and 40 Democrats voted "nay." As a result, the House passed legislation requiring Puerto Rico to hold a referendum on whether to become a state, an independent nation, o a sovereign entity that "freely associates" with the United States -- or continue its current status as commonwealth (territory).