OLD SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JULY 17:  For the fifth day thousands of demonstrators protest against Ricardo Rossello, the Governor of Puerto Rico in front of the Governor's mansion on July 17, 2019 in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.  They are calling on Rossello to step down after a group chat was exposed that included misogynistic and homophobic comments. (Photo by Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)
On the ground as Puerto Rico's political protests erupt
03:42 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Democratic Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard joined thousands of protesters in Puerto Rico Saturday in demanding that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló step down, taking action on a chorus of calls from 2020 presidential contenders for the embattled governor’s resignation.

“I stand in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico who have been suffering and struggling under this very corrupt government for far too long,” Gabbard told CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh in an interview from San Juan. “They are saying enough is enough. I join them in calling for this governor’s resignation. They can then begin to find a leader who will truly listen to their concerns and work for their interests.”

Mass protests erupted after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published leaked chats between Rosselló and his inner circle, including profanity-laced, homophobic and misogynistic messages about fellow politicians, members of the media and celebrities. Rosselló has rejected calls to resign. Gabbard flew to the island on Friday, and on Saturday told CNN, “I’m doing what I can to lift this up to the national conversation.”

Asked if she’s concerned the island could see increased instability should Rosselló resign without a clear successor, the 2020 presidential hopeful told CNN, “The most important thing is a corrupt governor steps down.”

“You can say this is messy, but this is democracy in action,” she said.

Gabbard previously said in a statement that the protests, which have lasted all week, are about more than “offensive language,” but about “rampant corruption within Puerto Rico’s government.” She urged her fellow 2020 candidates to come to the island “even if it’s just for a day, to show your support for the Puerto Rican people and their righteous cause.”

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and author Marianne Williamson had said Thursday that they stand in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico, and former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro on Friday directly called on Rosselló to resign.

“Americans in Puerto Rico are holding Governor (Rosselló) accountable for his disgraceful comments (and) corruption,” Castro tweeted Friday morning. “I stand with the Puerto Ricans in the streets protesting for his resignation. Excessive force against them is not acceptable.”

While campaigning in Manchester, New Hampshire, Castro later told reporters that Rosselló “can no longer be effective and I believe that he should resign.”

Castro surveyed the island’s recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria in a visit to San Juan in January – his first as a declared 2020 candidate.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren – who had also visited the island in January when she was exploring a run for president but had not yet jumped into the 2020 race – also called for Rosselló’s resignation Friday, saying his “actions are hurtful and undermine the public trust.”

“I’ve been standing with the people of Puerto Rico in their protests against corruption and their governor’s behavior. The people have spoken — loud and clear: (Rosselló) should resign,” Warren tweeted after hesitating earlier in the week to go as far.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan on Saturday echoed the calls for the governor to resign, and California Sen. Kamala Harris signaled her support for protesters.

In a tweet on Saturday, former Vice President Joe Biden called Rosselló’s comments shameful but stopped short of calling for his resignation.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted later Saturday that he joined Puerto Ricans “in calling for the immediate resignation of Governor Rosselló” and for more federal support for the island’s hurricane recovery.

“Puerto Rico deserves a governor who is accountable, transparent, and capable of leading the island to recovery after Hurricane Maria, which was almost two years ago,” he wrote. “The federal government must provide full support in this effort.”

The 2020 candidates are among the many politicians putting pressure on Rosselló to leave office.

Democratic New York Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have joined the chorus of elected officials calling on Rosselló to exit his position. Velázquez was born in Puerto Rico and Ocasio-Cortez is of Puerto Rican descent.

Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said in a tweet late Friday that the “island deserves new leadership.”

“I’ve long advocated for the families of Puerto Rico. I’ve pledged to be their voice in the Senate. While I’ve been hesitant to weigh in too heavily on the internal political affairs of the island, it’s clear that the current leadership has lost the confidence of the people of PR,” Scott wrote.

Puerto Rico’s sole representative to Congress, Jenniffer González-Colón, told CNN’s Juan Carlos Lopez in an interview that she wants Rosselló to step down from leading the New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico and as governor.

In an open letter posted on both Twitter and Facebook, González-Colón said it’s time for Puerto Rico to move forward.

CNN’s Andrea Diaz, Annie Grayer, and Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.