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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden allies in PR fear a rift with governor over federal court vacancies

The Biden White House appears to be ignoring Gov. Pedro Pierluisi’s recommendations for filling federal court vacancies in Puerto Rico, one official close to the situation said.

By The Star Staff

President Joe Biden’s allies on the island are worried that the White House is creating a rift with Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia by ignoring his recommendations to fill three vacancies in the local federal court, NBC news reported.

The controversy began amid rumors that candidates promoted by Pierluisi, a Democrat; Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón, a Republican; and Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Florida might never be interviewed or considered for federal judgeships in the territory, NBC News said.

At the same time, word leaked that the White House is vetting another candidate who is not supported by any of Puerto Rico’s political leaders and who has expressed pro-independence sympathies in the past, something that has raised the objections of local pro-statehood leaders.

“The White House has gone tone-deaf,” New Progressive Party (NPP) Sen. Carmelo Ríos Santiago, a top ally of Pierluisi who was a Biden campaign co-chairman in Puerto Rico in 2020, told NBC News.

Ríos, the secretary general of the NPP, told the news outlet that some are already upset at Biden for not pushing for statehood as he had promised during his campaign.

Now, the White House also appears to be ignoring the governor’s suggestions, he said.

“It’s customary to at least have the courtesy to listen to and weigh the opinion of the governor and the resident commissioner of the island, but that’s not happening, and now we hear names not even on the list,” Ríos said. “How do you want to have a judge on the U.S. District Court who’s an independentista, one who doesn’t want Puerto Rico to be part of the U.S. but instead be independent?”

White House spokesman Andrew Bates told the media outlet that the process is early and that no decisions have been made for any of the three open spots in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico.

“The White House has received recommendations from and been consulting in good faith with a variety of leaders in Puerto Rico, and that will continue,” Bates said in a written statement. “We do not discuss vetting processes publicly, but the President looks forward to nominating highly qualified individuals for these positions.”

A Pierluisi spokeswoman declined to comment to the network and did not provide NBC News with the governor’s list of recommended names for the federal bench.

“The governor is annoyed. He’s pissed off, or as we say here, encojonado. But he’s a gentleman who won’t say that publicly,” said an adviser, echoing two other advisers who all spoke on background because they weren’t authorized to discuss the process on the record. “The fact is there’s a breakdown of communication. Everybody is at a loss. What is the White House doing?”

A third adviser called the situation a “slap in the face” and said strained relations could have ramifications in future elections, considering the number of Democratic politicians who rely on Pierluisi and other island politicians to campaign in heavily Boricua communities across the mainland, NBC reported.

The governor is reportedly supporting Veronica Ferraiuoli Hornedo, a lawyer from San Juan and an aide to González Colón, for one of the vacancies, NBC News said.

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