Hillary Clinton To Make A Thank You Trip To Puerto Rico

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Hillary Clinton goes to Puerto Rico on Friday to thank voters there for past support in the primaries, and offering her support for more lenient treatment of the island's mounting public debt.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is in Puerto Rico today. Its citizens can vote for their choice for president only in the party primaries, but they do have close ties to many voters throughout the U.S., especially in the critical swing state of Florida. NPR's Ron Elving is following the Clinton campaign. Good morning.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: There are many pressing matters for the Clinton campaign right at this moment, the email controversy that we hear so much about, also her downward slide in polls. Why, then, this Puerto Rico trip?

ELVING: Puerto Rico is an important part of the playing field because even though, as you say, it can't vote in November of 2016, it is part of the nominating process. In fact, the island of Puerto Rico voted heavily for Hillary Clinton in 2008, more than 2-to-1 over Barack Obama. And it's a big factor in the political mindset of American Hispanics because Puerto Ricans are the second largest category of Hispanic Americans after Mexicans.

MONTAGNE: Well, OK, so clearly it would be a good place to go at some point. But again, why now?

ELVING: The campaign wants to keep to its own calendar. It wants to keep to its own priorities. And the immediate event that she's attending today this afternoon is a roundtable discussing the health care crisis. The residents there do not get the same participation in Medicare and Medicaid as people on the 50 states do. And the island is suffering from a decade-long recession, and half the population or nearly half the population lives below what we'd consider the poverty line.

MONTAGNE: So she does seem to be courting this particular part of the Hispanic vote.

ELVING: Yes, and that's another reason that this is timely, Renee, because Hillary Clinton just got the endorsement of a major figure in New York City politics, Melissa Mark-Viverito. She is the first Hispanic to be the head of the New York City Council. She came out forcefully for Clinton in an op-ed in Puerto Rico's largest newspaper. And that sends a message to other people who have ties to the island who are now U.S. residents and citizens and voters.

MONTAGNE: OK, well, what then is likely to be her message?

ELVING: She wants to tell them that she's with them in their struggle with public debt. They've got a huge public debt problem there. And unlike the 50 states, Puerto Rico is not allowed to let its municipalities and public corporations seek protection in bankruptcy. So, Hillary Clinton is supporting a bill to give Puerto Rico the same right that the states have to grant smaller entities within the state with this kind of protection. And by the way, Renee, a couple of the other candidates for president have taken the same position on Puerto Rico bankruptcy. Jeb Bush has. Martin O'Malley has. He's running for the Democratic nomination. And now also, I should mention that Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who cares a lot about Puerto Ricans in Florida and is also running for president, is also going to be on the island today, making his presence known even as Hillary Clinton is there.

MONTAGNE: All right, well, let's just finish up here with just a broad look at where Clinton stands at this stage and especially with regard, Ron, to that email controversy and hearing scheduled on Capitol Hill.

ELVING: Well, the release this week of emails that the State Department had possession of, 7,000 pages of them, was perhaps not everything that the Republicans had hoped for. There was nothing terribly disturbing in this latest batch. But on the other hand, the lawyer for one of Hillary Clinton's former aides - and this is the guy who set up her private email server for her back in 2009 - he has told a congressional committee he will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination if he is forced to testify by the Benghazi committee this fall. Whatever else that might mean, it looks bad.

MONTAGNE: Ron, thanks very much for joining us.

ELVING: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.