This was a procedural vote on a resolution setting a time limit for debate and determining which amendments could be offered to 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. If Puerto Rico chose to freely associate with the United States, it would essentially become a self-governing entity, but not an independent nation. (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.)
If passed, this particular procedural motion -- known as the “previous question" -- effectively ends debate and brings the pending legislation to an immediate vote.
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, or free association.
Rep. Jared Polis praised the legislation: "…In spite of the contributions Puerto Ricans have made to this country, they do not receive all of the benefits that are due to them as American citizens….While they [Puerto Ricans] pay many taxes, Federal programs treat Puerto Rico less than equally when compared to the 50 States….while they have courageously served in the military, and in fact at a higher rate than many other States, they do not yet have the right to vote for President of the United States, the Commander in Chief. It's imperative that Congress act to right these wrongs which Puerto Ricans have had to live through for so long."
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) -- a supporter of the underlying bill -- criticized the Democratic majority for deciding to limit amendments to the H.R. 2499: "…Unlike the current majority, I believe in open debate. Let amendments stand or fall on their merits. Just about every week I have the honor to come to the floor of this House to help manage rules debates on behalf of my party, and pretty much every time I come to the floor, I criticize the current majority for systematically blocking open debate with ruthless efficiency on every bill that we consider."
The House agreed to the motion ordering the previous question on the resolution setting a time limit for debate and limiting amendments to H.R. 2499 by a vote of 218-188. 218 Democrats voted "yea." 171 Republicans and 17 Democrats voted "nay." As a result, the House proceeded to a final vote on a resolution setting a time limit for debate and determining which amendments could be offered to 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.