The Senate of Puerto Rico is set to hold public hearings Monday on the nomination of veteran politician Pedro Pierluisi to replace embattled former governor Ricardo Rossello, who resigned as promised Friday.
Rossello handpicked Pierluisi to succeed him, thrusting the U.S. territory into a new period of uncertainty after weeks of protests over Rossello’s mismanagement and leaked communications in which Rossello and his advisors disparaged a range of Puerto Ricans.
Pierluisi was sworn in Friday but said at a news conference after taking an oath, his term as governor might be short-lived because there are no guarantees the Senate will confirm him.
Pierluisi vowed to serve as governor only until the Senate hearing on his confirmation.
Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz joined other critics in denouncing the nomination and declaring the transition process “unethical and illegal.”
The House of Representatives approved Pierluisi’s nomination Friday as secretary of state, an office next in line to the governorship. Pierluisi’s nomination now goes to the Senate, which moved up the hearings from Wednesday to Monday.
Schatz and other senators maintain until the nomination is confirmed by both chambers, the law states next in line for governor is Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez, who tweeted last Sunday she has no interest in the position.
But Pierluisi said Friday Vazquez told him she “is completely willing to take over the governorship.”
Rossello maintains confirmation by both houses of the legislature was not needed for a recess appointment, a claim some political observers say may generate legal challenges.
If the Senate does not confirm Pierluisi’s confirmation, he said he would step down and hand over the governorship to the justice secretary.
The uncertain transition process risks more political chaos and pessimism among Puerto Ricans about their island’s destiny, which has been clouded by years of bankruptcy and Hurricane Maria, a 2017 storm that was among the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.