Florida GOP distances from Trump's 'absolute no' on Puerto Rico's statehood comments

Florida Republicans are distancing themselves from President Trump’s remarks on Monday that he doesn’t favor Puerto Rico becoming the 51st U.S. state.

Trump declared “absolute no” on statehood for the island during a radio interview with Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera. He went on to slam Puerto Rico’s “incompetent leadership” and took a swipe at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, whom he said is a “grossly incompetent person” and “a horror show.”

“With people like that involved in Puerto Rico, I would be an absolute no,” Trump said. “Puerto Rico shouldn’t be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they’re doing.”

"With people like that involved in Puerto Rico, I would be an absolute no. Puerto Rico shouldn’t be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they’re doing."

— President Trump

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The comments prompted top Republicans in Florida, who hope to win the support of Puerto Ricans in the state in the upcoming midterm elections, to distance from Trump’s remarks.

Gov. Rick Scott tweeted the same day that he supports statehood for Puerto Ricans, saying “the will of the Puerto Rican voters should be respected - and it's clear they have voted in favor of statehood.”

According to the recent referendum last year, 97 percent of voters on the island voted to support the statehood, though the legitimacy of the results was called into question as merely 23 percent of people participated in the referendum. The leaders of the Popular Democratic Party, who support the current status as a U.S. territory, urged people to boycott the vote, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

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According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey conducted this summer, nearly 50 percent of respondents said they support Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state of the U.S. A quarter of respondents said the island should keep its current status. Only 10 percent said they would support the island's bid for total independence.

"The conversation does not have to be moving to whether the president says yay or nay on statehood. We all criticize [San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz], too."

— Ron DeSantis Puerto Rican outreach chair state Rep. Bob Cortes

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Republican Florida governor candidate Ron DeSantis didn’t weigh in on the issue following Trump's remarks, but his Puerto Rican outreach chair state Rep. Bob Cortes minimized the seriousness of the president’s comments, saying the point of his remarks was that the San Juan mayor, who is believed will run for Puerto Rico governor in the future, is not a good leader.

“The conversation does not have to be moving to whether the president says yay or nay on statehood,” Cortes told the Sentinel. “We all criticize [San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz], too.”

Alfonso Aguilar, president of Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles in Washington, D.C., shared Cortes’ sentiments to the newspaper as well. “Puerto Ricans know that Donald Trump is not responsible for what happened after Maria,” he said. “More than statehood, this is an expression against the mayor.”

Democrats seized on Trump’s anti-statehood comments, with Sen. Bill Nelson, who’s being challenged by Scott in the upcoming November general election, saying the president is treating Puerto Ricans as “second-class” citizens.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democrat running for the state’s governorship, said on Tuesday that he supports “equality” for Puerto Ricans.

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Some Republicans also criticized Trump, saying his comments would make it harder for Republicans as a party to support the statehood option for Puerto Rico.

“The Republican Party’s platform [on statehood] is useless if we don’t have a leader that gets behind that,” Peter Vivaldi, a former Republican Florida Senate candidate and local community leader, told the Sentinel. “If we’re not going to be treated equally, are you going to cut ties with Puerto Rico, or what are you going to do?”

“You’re holding hostage the territory of Puerto Rico just because you have a Twitter war with a mayor that doesn’t agree with you,” Vivaldi added. “There can’t be conditions.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.