President Donald Trump on Thursday falsely accused Democrats of inflating the death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, rejecting that government’s assessment that the storm had claimed nearly 3,000 lives.
Trump said that the toll was only six to 18 dead after his visit following the storm but that was at a time when the estimate of fatalities was changing. It rose to 34 in the hours after the president left the island. Trump on Thursday said Democrats padded the death toll by including, for example, a person who died of old age “in order to make me look as bad as possible.”
“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000,” Trump wrote.
He continued, “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. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”
The president’s comments came as the government prepared for Hurricane Florence, whose high winds were already beginning to batter the coast of the Carolinas.
Hurricanes typically provide a platform for elected officials to display leadership and strength. And a poor response, such as the government’s during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, can do significant damage to approval ratings. The federal government’s response to the storm that hit Puerto Rico has been viewed as inadequate — full power was restored to homes in August.
Puerto Rico’s leadership and several leading Republicans in Congress took issue with the president disputing the estimated number of deaths in Puerto Rico tied to Hurricane Maria.
“We strongly denounce anyone who would use this disaster or question our suffering for political purposes,” said Gov. Ricardo Roselló. “I ask the president to recognize the magnitude of Hurricane Maria and continue working with my government to ensure a full recovery of the American citizens of Puerto Rico. We cannot allow the devastation of our citizens to be questioned and we cannot allow response efforts to be politicized.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a retiring Miami Republican, said that no one should distort the truth of what happened in Puerto Rico. “It might be a new low,” Ros-Lehtinen said of the president’s false claim, adding that only a “warped mind would turn this statistic into fake news” about himself.
The death toll in Puerto Rico has changed since Trump’s visit to the island last year.
In August, after a thorough review, Puerto Rican officials accepted a revised estimate of the dead as 2,975. And lawmakers — Republican and Democrat — have accepted those findings.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, sidestepped questions about the issue Thursday.
While Trump on Thursday accused the Democrats of “bad politics,” Democratic lawmakers seized on the president’s portrayal of the loss of life in Puerto Rico.
“You’re right, Mr. President. The Hurricane didn’t kill 3,000 people. Your botched response did,” Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said in a Twitter post.