President questions Puerto Rico death toll
Trump calls estimate of 3,000 deaths effort by Democrats to discredit him
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday questioned a report putting the death toll from last year’s catastrophic hurricane in Puerto Rico at nearly 3,000. He also called the new estimate an effort by Democrats to discredit him.
San Juan’s mayor described the president’s claim as “delusional” and even prominent Republicans such as House Speaker Paul Ryan distanced themselves from Trump’s tweets about Puerto Rico.
“This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!” Trump’s comments, which come as his administration prepares for Hurricane Florence to hit the East Coast, led both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to weigh in countering his claim. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last year, it devastated homes and infrastructure and left large swaths of the territory without power for months.
Ryan, pressed by reporters on Trump’s tweet, said he disagreed with the president but would not comment on whether he thought Trump should apologize. Ryan said he had “no reason to dispute” the findings of a study commissioned by Puerto Rico’s government that put its death toll at nearly 3,000 people. “Those are just the facts of what happens when a horrible hurricane hits an isolated place like an island,” Ryan said when asked about Trump’s tweet.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who has been outspoken on the government’s response to the storm, lamented in a tweet that the deaths had become political. He repeated the study’s findings that 3,000 more people died on the island after the hurricane than during comparable periods.
“Both Fed & local gov made mistakes,” Rubio wrote. “We all need to stop the blame game & focus on recovery, helping those still hurting & fixing the mistakes.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican and early Trump supporter, said he disagreed with the president.
“I’ve been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand,” Scott, now a candidate for Senate, posted on Twitter. “The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching. I’ll continue to help PR.”
As his team braces for Hurricane Florence, Trump has praised his administration’s responses to deadly storms – including in Puerto Rico.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz responded, “Simply put: delusional, paranoid, and unhinged from any sense of reality.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said he “strongly denounced” what he described as questioning the impact of the storm for political purposes.
“The victims and the people of Puerto Rico do not deserve to have their pain questioned,” he said in a statement. “It is not time to deny what happened, it is time to make sure that it does not happen again.”
Democrats on Capitol Hill blasted Trump. “Only Donald Trump could see the tragedy in Puerto Rico and conclude that he is the victim,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Trump’s Thursday morning tweets focused on a George Washington University study released last month that examined the toll from Hurricane Maria. From September 2017 to February 2018,
2,975 people died, according to that study, which was commissioned by Puerto Rico’s government.
George Washington University said Thursday it stands by the methodology used in the report and said the work was conducted with “complete independence and freedom from any kind of interference.”
In addition to force of the hurricane itself, many people in Puerto Rico died because disease and infection due to the lack of electricity and drinkable water on the island.
“We are confident that the number –
2,975 – is the most accurate and unbiased estimate of excess mortality to date,” the school said in a statement.
President Donald Trump called the new estimate of Hurricane Maria’s death toll an effort by Democrats to discredit him.
Carmen Yulín Cruz