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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Puerto Rico has a new governor this evening, weeks after protesters began demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló. NPR’s David Welna is in San Juan covering the transition, and he joins me now. David, I’m going to start by having you talk about the new governor. Who is he?
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Audie, he is Pedro Pierluisi. He is a Washington insider. He served eight years as Puerto Rico’s nonvoting delegate to the U.S. Congress. Before that, he was the, in effect, attorney general for the father of the governor, Rosselló, who’s just resigned – that was back in the early ’90s.
And most recently, he has been working for a law firm in Washington that is an adviser to the nonelected financial oversight board that is making a lot of decisions about Puerto Rico’s financial future. And that’s drawn a lot of criticism because that board is seen by many here as the country’s public enemy No. 1. And he defended himself at a hearing before the Puerto Rico House today saying, you know, I was a lawyer for that outfit, but my loyalty is to the country now, and I’m going to be a good governor. And still, I think there are some lingering doubts about his background.
But he definitely is somebody who has very, very good ties in Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed him yesterday, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer did as well. He has the support of Democrats; the question is whether he has the support of Republicans in Washington.
CORNISH: This is fascinating context, given what’s led up to this point, right? I mean, tell us what led to Governor Rosselló’s resignation.
WELNA: Well, there were some broad things. One was that Hurricane Maria, that hit this island almost two years ago, was handled very slowly and poorly by this administration in the estimation of a lot of people here. But then there were some very maddening events out – the main one being a few weeks ago, when a series of online chats behind an encrypted program were leaked, and they involve the governor and 11 of his associates in which they demeaned people. The remarks were sexist, homophobic. They made fun of victims of the hurricane.
And it really was the last straw. It brought people out to the streets. There were demonstrations for days on end. And it really was the people on the streets, who didn’t have any clear leaders, who pushed the Congress, which is controlled by the governor’s own party, to say they were going to begin impeachment proceedings. And on the eve of when those proceedings were supposed to begin last week, the governor announced that he was going to step down. And he actually did so this afternoon.
CORNISH: What’s the scene there now? How have people of Puerto Rico reacted to this transition?
WELNA: Well, it’s been a mixed reaction. People who were protesting the outgoing governor, Rosselló, some of them welcomed Pierluisi’s being installed as governor, thinking that, well, this might be a chance for Puerto Rico to make good. Others were a little more critical. I talked to a woman named Sonia Mercado (ph), who was one of them.
SONIA MERCADO: We are all going to keep on protesting, and we’re very happy that our young people are reading, are getting involved, know what is going on, their responsibility, and that we need to be respected as a nation. That’s very important.
WELNA: And so I think the protests probably are going to continue. There are also questions about the legitimacy of Pierluisi. The Senate is going to vote on confirming him to the post that put him in line for succession next week. So uncertainty remains here.
CORNISH: That’s NPR’s David Welna in San Juan.
David, thank you.
WELNA: You’re welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.