President Donald Trump on Thursday disputed the official death toll in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, claiming that Democrats inflated the numbers “to make me look as bad as possible.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello last month raised the official toll from 64 to 2,975 after a new, government-commissioned study found deaths from the storm were severely undercounted.
“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Trump wrote Thursday on Twitter. “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!”
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...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
.....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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
The president did not provide evidence to support his claim. He told reporters earlier this week that he felt the government response to Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria was “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”
“I think Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success,” he said.
In a statement released Tuesday, Rossello called Hurricane Maria "the worst natural disaster in our modern history" and said work remained before they could move on to other stages of recovery. He also said he was still waiting for Trump to respond to a petition to help Puerto Rico complete work on emergency housing restoration programs and debris removal.
The president’s comments come as Hurricane Florence continues to churn in the Atlantic Ocean. The storm is expected to bring as many as 40 inches of rain to parts of the Carolinas, prompting evacuation orders for hundreds of thousands of residents along the coast.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The president's unsubstantiated claim brought strong reactions from Florida lawmakers from both parties:
The president’s comments on the nearly 3,000 American lives lost in Puerto Rico are shameful. We deserve and expect more from someone who holds the highest office in our country.— Senator Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) September 13, 2018
I disagree with @POTUS– an independent study said thousands were lost and Gov. Rosselló agreed. I've been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand. 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— Rick Scott (@ScottforFlorida) September 13, 2018
No death is partisan and our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico deserved better from @realDonaldTrump before, during, and after the hurricane.— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) September 13, 2018
The campaign for Republican Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, who has touted his support from President Trump in campaign ads, responded by saying:
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