The White House said Tuesday that a majority of Puerto Ricans backed statehood on a November ballot referendum on the island's political status, a change from its suggestion Monday that the result of the vote was unclear.
"To clarify, the results were clear, the people of Puerto Rico want the issue of status resolved, and majority chose statehood in the second question," White House spokesman Luis Miranda said in a statement. "Now it is time for Congress to act and the administration will work with them on that effort, so that the people of Puerto Rico can determine their own future."
Fifty-four percent of Puerto Rican voters said they want to change their commonwealth status on Election Day. Voters were asked in a second question what they prefer the island's status to be, and 61 percent said they favor statehood.
But just yesterday, White House press secretary Jay Carney demurred when asked whether President Barack Obama would help advance the cause of Puerto Rican statehood in his second term, and he demurred.
"I think the outcome was a little less clear than that because of the process itself," Carney said during his daily news briefing.
Doubts were raised over whether the status referendum accurately expressed the desires of the Puerto Rican people. Over 466,000 who voted on the first question on whether to change the island's status declined to vote on the second question that asked what type of political entity the island should become (a state, an independent country, or free association, which would grant it more autonomy from the U.S.)
That led pundits and political insiders to believe that the structure of the question was confusing or that there is a lack of consensus among voters over what they want the island to become.
Carney had urged Congress to work with Puerto Rico on a path forward, but not necessarily on statehood.
"What I can tell you is that the people of Puerto Rico have made it clear that they want a resolution to the issue of the island's political status. And consistent with the recommendations of the task force report, Congress should now study the results closely and provide the people of Puerto Rico with a clear path forward," he said.
The top politician who backs Puerto Rican statehood, Gov. Luis Fortuño, lost his bid for reelection last month. He aligns with Republicans and was a strong supporter of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. But the island's non-voting representative in Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, also supports statehood but aligns with Democrats and was a staunch backer of Obama during the 2008 and 2012 elections.