Democrats are getting ready to finalize the draft of the party platform in Orlando on Friday and Saturday, but behind the scenes, there have been sharp disagreements over language that should be included concerning Puerto Rico, as well as whether Cuban immigration policy should be addressed.
Emails obtained by BuzzFeed News showed a contentious back and forth between Kenneth McClintock, former lieutenant governor of Puerto Rico and a statehood supporter, and José Hernández Mayoral, a former Puerto Rican official and platform committee member who supports the current commonwealth status. The email chain, which began July 1 and continued throughout the weekend, included 50 mostly Latino DNC superdelegates.
McClintock argued that Puerto Rico should be included in the platform with other territories and not given its own section, because Puerto Rico has been treated like a territory.
In recent months, Puerto Rico's bankruptcy has become the source of major political maneuvering and legislation. The recent PROMESA legislation would institute a financial control board on the island to help rescue it from the financial crisis.
McClintock contended that further language should be added to the platform to address the way in which PROMESA "takes away many of the powers of self-government."
The dispute escalated with each subsequent email from there. Hernández Mayoral said that McClintock's stance is a broadside against commonwealth supporters, and that Democrats would be wise not to alienate Puerto Ricans who may not support statehood. While he too has issues with PROMESA, Hernández Mayoral said that adding details might restrict Democrats later on.
McClintock said his stance was not just some meaningless, mean-spirited jab.
"You have to first accept your illness if you’re ever going to correct it," he told BuzzFeed News. "It's high time the national party realizes the nation suffers from the illness of having territories forever."
The Democratic platform isn't a binding document for party officials, and tends to be ratified by voice vote at the convention. But that process can produce uncomfortable TV moments — in 2012, for instance, language concerning Israel and religion became a point of contention — and can bring prominence to an issue. Bernie Sanders has made it integral to his strategy as his campaign comes to an end.
Democratic convention officials stressed that disagreement is a normal part of the platform process, which features 187 committee members from across the country, as well as experts and others, who review and discuss the draft before it is made final.
The initial draft states that "Democrats believe that the people of Puerto Rico should determine their ultimate political status from permanent options that do not conflict with the Constitution."
But statehood supporters argue that Puerto Ricans — who have been part of a mass migration from the island to central Florida — left because they want a new direction for the island and would support bolder language and policies from Democrats.
"Being deliberately ambiguous at this seminal, pivotal moment in Puerto Rico’s history benefits no one," said Andres Lopez, a statehood supporter who was vice chair of the platform committee in 2012, and was included on the email chain.
But Hernández Mayoral said that while there may be more statehood supporters in the crucial swing state of Florida, Democrats would gain nothing by taking a stronger stance on the issue of status for the island.
"You would be offending a big chunk of voters," he told BuzzFeed News. "It's not something that is going to excite statehood voters and would offend commonwealth voters."
Jorge Quintana, a DNC member from Montana, also emailed on the issue of revising the Cuban Adjustment Act, which Democrats said will be discussed this week.
He said that his family and friends have benefited from the policy that allows Cubans to stay in the United States if they can make it to its shores, but it's time for the 50-year-old policy to be updated.
"Our immigration system is broken, not just with regards to Cuba, but this is one part of it," he said, suggesting an increase in the number visas for Cubans and more travel visas might be appropriate.
"Cubans are risking their lives to get here on a boat," one Democratic superdelegate added. "Getting rid of the wet-foot, dry-foot policy could create separate conditions without them having to go to extremes."
But Democrats said the Cuba issue is likely not "ripe" enough to include in the current platform and that the Obama administration has thus far resisted efforts to make a change because of fears that scores of Cubans could be spooked into making the dangerous trek to the U.S., which could lead to deaths because the coast guard is not as well-staffed as it was in the 1990's.
Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi, who has worked extensively with Florida voters, said neither issue will move the majority of Puerto Ricans and Cubans in the state, citing jobs and the economy, education, and health care as issues they care about most.
While Puerto Rico's status and Cuba's special immigration policy are signature issues, polls and focus groups show they're not the major issues Puerto Ricans and Cubans will be voting on for president, Amandi said.
"It will be an hour into a focus group before the issues of the islands come up and sometimes you have to prompt them on it," he said. "They're more concerned with the cost of living, gas prices, rent, and whether they can pay for health care."
Quintana joked that where there are four Cubans, you will find eight opinions and said Democrats are much the same. While the platform may not lead to policy changes soon, he said, it serves an important purpose.
"It's a rallying cry," he said. "A lot of time and effort goes into it. We're a big tent party but it's good to get the disagreement out in the open."
Adrian Carrasquillo is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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