Pres­i­dent ques­tions Puerto Rico death toll

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - David Jack­son and John Fritze

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.

AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump called the new es­ti­mate of Hur­ri­cane Maria’s death toll an ef­fort by Democrats to dis­credit him.

Car­men Yulín Cruz

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