The White House refused to say Monday that President Barack Obama would work to advance the cause of Puerto Rican statehood, explaining that the recent vote on the island's political status produced an unclear result.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked at his daily briefing whether Obama would help expedite the process of Puerto Rican statehood, but he responded that the referendum's "outcome was a little less clear than that because of the process itself."
The comments are one of the clearest signs yet that the issue of Puerto Rico's political status won't be a major issue in the next Congress.
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 the results of the plebiscite were called into question, since over 466,000 Puerto Ricans who voted on whether to change the island's status did not state their preference on the second question. Some chalked up the discrepancy to confusion over the structure of the referendum, but others said it's clear that Puerto Ricans still remain divided on the island's political status.
Puerto Rico's pro-statehood governor, Luis Fortuño, also lost his reelection bid to Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who belongs to a party that wants to keep the island's commonwealth status intact.
The White House acknowledged 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 called on Congress to "study the results" of the referendum to determine a way to move the status issue forward. In order to gain admission as a U.S. state, Puerto Rico would need Congress to act.
"This administration, as you know, is committed to the principle that the question of political status is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico," Carney said, adding that a White House task force on the island's status would continue its work on the issue.