Trump stance on Puerto Rico death toll draws criticism on Capitol Hill

Jay Schwartz secure plywood over the windows of their business ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence Sept. 11 2018 in Myrtle Beach S.C

Joe Raedle Getty Images

Trump bristled at criticism of his administration's handling of the Puerto Rico disaster as Hurricane Florence approached the coast of North Carolina with heavy rains that forecasters warned would cause catastrophic flooding across a wide swath of the USA southeast.

"3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico", Trump tweeted early Thursday.

He added, "This was a devastating storm that hit an isolated island, and that's really no one's fault". They then compared this baseline to the actual number of deaths, and voila!

At 6:17 a.m., Andrew Gillum, the Democrat running for Florida governor, tweeted: "No death is partisan and our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico deserved better from @realDonaldTrump before, during and after the hurricane".

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, whose parents were Puerto Rican immigrants, spoke on the House floor in front of a printout of the Puerto Rican flag, saying Trump is "delusional" and incapable or "empathy or basic human decency".

George Washington University researchers are standing by their study that found the death toll following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was 2,975, considerably higher than first thought. Full power was restored in Puerto Rico following last year's storm only last month. Much of the United States territory was without power for weeks.

Democratic commentator Kirsten Powers agreed, noting that Trump knows his base isn't watching CNN for news. "This was a terrible storm".

Navarro said that precisely because of those facts, FEMA and Trump should have known that the island would need extra help. "I have no reason to dispute these numbers". Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) and gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis already came out against Trump's statement. "And over at Fox News Puerto Rico never happened", she said". I've been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand.

"I don't buy the idea that the President is indifferent to our friends in PR".

Trump has previously said his administration's handling of the storms was "an incredible unsung success".

State and local officials are responsible for establishing death tolls, not the federal government. "It was just such a powerful storm", the congressman said, adding that he believes Trump "has been, I think, overly criticized for his response".

"This is what denial following neglect looks like", declared San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz in response to Trump's tweets.

"In a humanitarian crisis, you should not be grading yourself".

I know the latter to be false precisely because I've spoken to numerous people responsible for that and similar studies, all of which came to similar conclusions. "We should all have done more", Cruz told CNN's Anderson Cooper later Tuesday evening.

Previous reports from the Puerto Rican government said the number was closer to 1,400.

While the President has frequently praised the government response in the year since the hurricane, others in the administration have acknowledged learned lessons. In August, after a thorough review, Puerto Rican officials accepted a revised estimate of the dead as 2,975. Rossello says, "It's not a time to fight, to have political noise, to use these things for the benefit of one party or another". We are public health people. Bottom line is, we are concentrating on what we call critical lifelines - health, safety, security. "Just, you know, how wrong in every single wrong, morally, politically. And so, we're reorganizing the firepower of the federal government underneath these critical lifelines, we're pushing forward", Long added.

Echoing Cruz's condemnation of Trump's tweets, Democratic lawmakers also expressed outrage that the president would attempt to downplay the number of people who died as a result of a natural disaster and U.S. government neglect.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of SC, who talks to Trump often, said, "I don't think it's bad to say we could have done better in Puerto Rico".

In a pair of tweets Thursday, Trump appeared to specifically attack the findings of that study.

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