efe-epaSan Juan

Who will serve the 18 months left in the term of Puerto Rico's disgraced governor remained unclear Thursday barely 24 hours before Ricardo Rossello was due to relinquish power.

Under the constitution of this US commonwealth, the secretary of state is first in line to succeed in the event of a sitting governor's being unable to continue in office.

In the current case, however, the position of secretary of state was left vacant when incumbent Luis Rivera Marin quit on July 13 as a result of the same online private-chat scandal that ultimately brought down Rossello.

The plan floated last week following Rossello's resignation called for the next Cabinet member in line, Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez, to assume the governorship.

In the face of hostile public reaction, Vazquez - a Rossello ally herself accused of ethical lapses - quickly renounced her claim.

Puerto Rico's political leaders eventually settled on Pedro Pierluisi, who has served in the past as the island's non-voting representative in the US Congress, as new secretary of state and governor-in-waiting.

Pierluisi was sworn-in Wednesday as secretary of state and had been scheduled to appear before the Senate Thursday for a confirmation hearing.

But Senate leader Thomas Rivera Schatz decided to postpone the confirmation until next Monday.

Dismissing concern about the delay, Rivera insisted that there was "no constitutional crisis," apparently relying on a 1952 law allowing a secretary of state-designate to serve as interim governor on a temporary basis prior to confirmation.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, summoned Pierluisi to appear on Friday for a confirmation vote just hours before Rossello says he will leave office.

And the House speaker, Carlos Mendez, said at a press conference that either chamber can prevent Pierluisi from becoming governor by declining to confirm him as secretary of state.

Pierluisi, who was in the Senate to hear Rivera's remarks, told reporters that officials and lawmakers would continue "evaluating (the situation) from the legal point of view."

"We will see as events develop," he said.

Within minutes of learning that Pierluisi's confirmation had been put off, Justice Secretary Vazquez said she was closely following events at the Capitol.

"We will continue carrying out our function. My resignation is not contemplated," she said on Twitter. "When the time comes, we will assume the responsibility imposed by the Constitution and the Law."

Some lawmakers have reservations about Pierluisi because of his work with a law firm representing the hugely unpopular Fiscal Control Board, a panel appointed by Washington to oversee the finances of debt-laden Puerto Rico.

Rossello remains "firm" in his intention to step down at 5.00 pm Friday, his erstwhile chief of staff, Ricardo Llerandi, said.

The governor announced his resignation last Wednesday after weeks of mass protests spurred by the publication of private chats among Rossello, top aides and friends.

The 800-plus pages of Rossello chats, published by the Center for Investigative Journalism, include references to San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Puerto Rico-born former president of the New York City Council, as "whores."

In one exchange, Rossello responds approvingly when an official says he would like to shoot Mayor Cruz, while a gubernatorial aide jokes about the thousands of Puerto Ricans who died in 2017 as a result of Hurricane Maria.

Rossello and others on the chat also made homophobic comments about openly gay Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin.

Some people found the especially outlandish statements less disturbing than an overall tone that seems to show an administration more concerned about its image than with addressing the crisis.

And the publication of the chats came as the Rossello government was reeling from the arrests of two former senior officials on charges of fraud, theft and money laundering. EFE

co/dr