After Puerto Rico legislators delayed a vote to confirm Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s possible successor on Thursday, the woman who is currently next in line for the job said she won’t resign and would follow the rule of law.
“If the time comes, we’ll assume the responsibility imposed by the Constitution and the law,” Puerto Rico’s Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez Garced tweeted Thursday.
A day before Rosselló’s announced resignation is set to take effect, it’s still unclear who will become the next governor of the US territory.
The outgoing governor had nominated attorney Pedro Pierluisi as secretary of state, paving the way for him to become the next governor.
But when legislators met on Thursday for a special session to discuss Pierluisi’s nomination, they decided to postpone their final vote until next week.
If a new secretary of state is not confirmed before the governor leaves office, the next in line, Vázquez Garced, would likely become the next governor, according to Puerto Rico’s law.
Vázquez Garced said Thursday that she is not thinking about resigning. Earlier this week, she said she didn’t want the job.
Senators will vote to confirm Pierluisi until next week
Power struggles have intensified within Rosselló’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party earlier this week and they became apparent on Thursday.
During the Senate’s special session on Thursday, Thomas Rivera Schatz, the powerful president of the Senate and expected new head of the party, criticized Pierluisi but said he would have a chance to defend himself in a confirmation hearing.
The governor’s party had been pushing for Rivera Schatz, one of Rosselló’s longtime political rivals, to be named secretary of state.
Senate members postponed their vote to confirm Pierluisi as secretary of state. The House is expected to meet Friday to discuss his nomination.
While some people favor Pierluisi for his ties to Capitol Hill, many seem him as a problematic figure.
“For a long time Pierluisi had a good name in Puerto Rico. He was seen as a good guy, a consensus builder. But when he was the resident commissioner for Puerto Rico he asked for the oversight board. And now he’s an attorney for the oversight board,” said political expert Mario Negron Portillo.
But in the wake of a political crisis in Puerto Rico, Rosselló could have not had many candidates to choose from.
“The New Progressive party doesn’t have a good option to support because all the people they had who could take that role in the government have been tainted by scandal,” said Jorell A. Melendez-Badillo, an assistant professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at Dartmouth College.
Who is Pedro Pierluisi?
Pierluisi, 60, is a corporate lawyer for the O’Neill & Borges law firm in San Juan. His firm represents the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico – which Congress created in 2016 to help manage territory’s financial crisis. His brother-in-law is the head of the board, known as la Junta on the island.
One of the more popular chants among protesters prior to Rosselló’s resignation was “Ricky renuncia y llévate a la Junta” (Ricky resign and take the Junta with you.)
He took a leave of absence effective Tuesday, according to the firm’s website.
Pierluisi is also the former Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, the island’s sole representative in Congress, from 2009-2017. He also previously served as Puerto Rico’s secretary of justice under former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, the current governor’s father.
Rosselló defeated Pierluisi in 2016 when they sought the New Progressive Party nomination for governor. After his loss, Pierluisi moved to the private sector.
In his statement announcing the nomination, Rosselló said Pierluisi’s previous positions make him an ideal candidate to confront the current political challenges.
“This historic time requires a person able to re-establish relations with all sectors at the local and national level,” said the outgoing governor.
Pierluisi said in a statement Wednesday that he believes it is crucial to recover the trust of federal authorities, US Congress and continue rebuilding Puerto Rico.
“I have listened to the people’s messages, their demonstrations, their demands and their concerns,” Pierluisi said in a statement. “And in this new challenge in my life, I will only answer to the people. My goal is now to transform the energy shown by our people in constructive actions that help Puerto Rico go forward.”
Rosselló has said Pierluisi will finish out his term but will not seek the governorship next year.
Text scandal led to governor’s ouster
Following days of massive anti-government protests, Rosselló announced last week that he will resign.
Protests were sparked by the release of private chat messages that exposed Rosselló and 11 top aides and Cabinet members exchanging profanity-laced, homophobic and misogynistic messages about fellow politicians, members of the media, celebrities and others.
The texting scandal followed years of alleged corruption, a debt crisis and widespread devastation by Hurricane Maria. The leaks and the unrest that followed rocked the island’s administration and led to resignations of several high-profile political figures.
According to Puerto Rico’s order of succession, the secretary of state is next in line after the governor. The man who held that position, Luis G. Rivera Marín, resigned July 13 because he was a participant in a group chat at the heart of the scandal.
CNN’s Julian Zamora, Ray Sanchez and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.