SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico's political crisis appeared to deepen on Wednesday as the island's outgoing governor and legislators — including those from his own party — clashed over who should be the next leader of a U.S. territory unbalanced by massive protests.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello announced that he had chosen Puerto Rico's former non-voting representative to Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, as his secretary of state. That post would put Pierluisi in line to be governor when Rossello steps down on Friday. But he's unlikely to be approved by legislators.
Several lawmakers have already said they will reject Pierluisi's nomination because he works for a law firm that represents the federal control board that was created to oversee Puerto Rico's finances before the territory, saddled with more than $70 billion in public debt, declared a sort of bankruptcy. Pierluisi's brother-in-law also heads the board.
"That's a serious conflict of interest," Rep. Jose Enrique Melendez told The Associated Press.
Rep. Milagros Charbonier and House of Representatives President Johnny Mendez also said they would vote against Pierluisi. Both urged Rossello to instead nominate Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, who is running for governor in 2020.
Mendez has said Pierluisi does not have the votes needed in the House of Representatives. All three legislators are members of Rossello's pro-statehood New Progressive Party.
"The situation could not be more complicated," said Sen. Jose Antonio Vargas Vidot, who ran for Senate as an independent. "This is absurd, what we're going through. We never thought something like this could happen. In an extraordinary crisis, we have to take extraordinary measures."
Rossello has said he will resign on Friday, bowing to the demands of massive street protests by Puerto Ricans frustrated with corruption, mismanagement and an obscenity-laced chat that was leaked in which Rossello and 11 other men made fun of women, gay people and victims of Hurricane Maria.
More than a dozen officials have resigned in the wake of the chat, including former Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin.
By law, the secretary of state would take over if the governor resigns, but if someone is not named by Friday, Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez would be next in line. She has said she doesn't want the job, however, and has not said what she'd do if it falls to her anyway.
Vargas instead proposed that an economist or an administrator of public services with no party ties be appointed to carry out the next 17 months as governor.
Meanwhile, Schatz, whose spokeswoman said he was not granting interviews, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that all problems have solutions and that Puerto Rico should be focused on finding them.
"We should promote unity, not discord," he wrote.
Legislators were expected to meet on Thursday to debate Pierluisi's nomination, which must be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Political analyst Annabelle Colberg Toro said Pierluisi has proven to be a conciliatory leader in the past and warned that Puerto Rico needs stability soon.
"People want a return to normalcy," she said. "We are experiencing a paralysis in which no one knows what's going to happen next."
Pierluisi, who took a leave of absence from the law firm, said in a statement Wednesday that much work remains to be done to recover the trust of federal authorities, U.S. Congress and the people of Puerto Rico as it also struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria.
"My goal is now to transform the energy shown by our people in constructive actions that help Puerto Rico go forward," he said. "Puerto Rico is facing times never before seen and we all have to be part of the path to progress."
Pierluisi represented Puerto Rico in Congress from 2009-2017 and then ran against Rossello in the 2016 primaries and lost. He also previously served as justice secretary under Rossello's father, Pedro Rossello, when he was governor.