Embattled Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told Fox News on Monday he “assumes responsibility” for his actions that have sparked widespread protests and calls for his resignation, in his first one-on-one interview since the scandal began.
During the heated interview on “Shepard Smith Reporting,” the governor, a Democrat and member of the territory's New Progressive Party (PNP), added he will “make an effort for reconciliation” in the wake of allegations of corruption and insulting the people of Puerto Rico, including victims of Hurricane Maria.
When Shepard Smith asked Rosselló why he wouldn’t step down as governor especially given all the protests, he answered: “There's an important component about rule of law and democracy, and I respect that process. We will have, and we will propose, certain mechanisms so that within the future that process can go forward.”
He added, “My contention is that I need to work beyond politics so that we can address some of the long-standing problems of corruption here in Puerto Rico and fix that problem.”
Rosselló announced Sunday he will not seek re-election but refused to resign, as allegations of corruption and insulting his people led nearly 100,000 protesters to take to the streets in and around the capital city, San Juan.
“I've seen the [protests], I've heard the people talk. I've had a process of introspection and I did. I have made a decision I'm not going to run. I'm not going to seek re-election. And that way I can focus on the job at hand,” Rosselló told Smith on Monday. “You know, I've had the biggest recovery effort in the modern history of the United States on our hands. We're battling corruption with certain initiatives that we've already started, and certain new ones that we want to put out there, so that we can fix the problem.”
Many Puerto Ricans have been calling for Rosselló’s resignation after leaked online chats showed him insulting women and political opponents as well as mocking victims of Hurricane Maria, one of the most devastating natural disasters to hit the island territory.
Rosselló said Sunday in a Facebook video that he agreed with the people's right to protest and was willing to confront the impeachment process, which already had begun in Puerto Rico's legislature. He said although he will not resign as the island's leader, he will step down as head of his pro-statehood party.
Smith interrupted Rosselló during Monday's interview by pointing out the “attacks” he made on women, homosexuals and “on the dead relatives of your own residents across your own island.” Smith then asked, “After all that, who's left to support you? And is it even safe for you to continue to attempt to govern?”
Rosselló answered, “I’ve apologized for that. I’m making amends for all those efforts.”
Smith asked, “You’ve apologized for what specifically, governor?”
Rosselló responded, “For all of the comments that I’ve made on the chats.” He added, “There’s another effort that needs to move forward which is the battling of corruption.”
Smith then interrupted Rosselló again, saying, “The corruption was in your own administration, 15-and-a-half million dollars and five people who were on those chats, you got rid of all of them. They are now out of the government but you remain. Doesn’t the buck stop with your office, governor?”
“That’s right, but I was elected by the people of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló answered.
“Those people are on the streets of your biggest city today saying, ‘We want you out.’ That’s the headline in the main newspaper and the politicians on both sides of the political aisle on your own island are saying the exact same thing,” Smith said.
“You’re a man on an island by yourself, how long can you stay there?” Smith asked.
“My effort and my commitment is to follow through on some of the efforts that I've established for the people of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said in response. “That includes establishing, again, a plan that I've already circulated with members within the White House so that we can battle this corruption, so that we can tackle what government employees are doing, what we are doing as elected officials, and a collaboration with the federal government. This is the biggest recovery effort in the United States, history.”
In Sunday's Facebook video, Rosselló acknowledged his “mistakes” and pointed out that he had apologized in the past. He did not offer a formal apology in Sunday’s video and did not immediately offer an apology during the interview with Smith on Monday.
Earlier this month, Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 pages of private messages between Rosselló and several other government officials.
In one message Rosselló called one New York female politician of Puerto Rican descent a “w---e” and described another as a “daughter of a b---h.” One chat also made vulgar references to Latin pop star Ricky Martin’s homosexuality.
During Monday’s live interview, Smith asked Rosselló why he continuously said he's apologized for his “mistakes,” pointing out that the word usually refers to “things you did by accident,” which Smith said was not represented by the 900 pages of attacks on people on his own island. When Smith asked Rosselló if he would want a person like that leading him, Rosselló responded by saying, “I would want to showcase my record.”
He eventually apologized to the people he had offended, including Martin, after Smith had asked Rosselló if he had apologized “sufficiently.”
“Everything that was said I assume responsibility for. I apologize for it," Rosselló told Smith.
He added, “My focus is to make sure that the policy that we have enacted moves forward.”
Amid the outcry, the media-friendly governor largely has avoided public appearances since July 11, making only four brief appearances, breaking from his usual three or four lengthy news conferences in addition to multiple media appearances.
The calls to oust the governor have caught the attention in the mainland U.S. and several officials, including presidential candidate Julián Castro, have come out in support of the protesters.
Castro, a Democrat, openly called on Rosselló to step down, saying “it’s clear that Gov. Rosselló can no longer be effective.”
“The governor is not good,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “The U.S. gave Puerto Rico $92 billion and it’s in the hands of terrible and corrupt people... You have grossly incompetent leadership.”
Some well-known athletes with ties to the island also urged the governor to resign last week, including the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Enrique Hernandez and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Yadier Molina.
During a July 11 news conference, Rosselló asked Puerto Ricans to forgive him for the comments he made in private. In further media appearances, he continued to ask for forgiveness over the comments many deemed offensive and misogynistic.
Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly, Lukas Mikelionis, Mike Arroyo and The Associated Press contributed to this report.