President Donald Trump, in a weird and inaccurate pair of Tweets on Thursday morning, implied the official death toll in Puerto Rico after last year's hurricanes were wrong. Instead, he argued, without providing evidence, that the death toll was a Democratic claim to make him look bad.
A George Washington University report said last month that vast numbers of Puerto Ricans died as a direct result of the September 20 storm, far beyond the initial estimate of 64 deaths. "When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths", Trump wrote.
The report came almost a year after a much-maligned visit to Puerto Rico by Trump two weeks after Maria, where he implied that residents should be "proud" that the official death toll at the time was just 16 people, far lower than that of a "real catastrophe, like Katrina".
Trump's tweets - which came as a highly unsafe Hurricane Florence churned toward the Carolinas - brought an immediate rebuke from Democrats in Congress.
"This is what denial following neglect looks like: Mr Pres in the real world people died on your watch", Carmen Yulin Cruz said on Twitter. Last month, it acknowledged in a document filed to Congress that the death toll from Maria was much higher than the official total.
"They died because they didn't have power; they died because they couldn't get their meds", Cassidy said.
Trump visited Puerto Rico on October 3 of a year ago, when the death toll was estimated to be 16, comparing the storm favorably to Katrina saying "Sixteen versus in the thousands".
As Hurricane Florence approached the Carolinas, the president picked a fresh fight over the administration's response to the Category 4 storm that smashed into the USA territory last September.
Thursday, Stewart's spokeswoman, Daryn Frischknecht, said the congressman "doesn't have anything to add to the conversation" about the president's assessment of the death toll. But I think this is more than politics.
"I hate talking about politics and all that, but I think this is more than politics. My only consideration was the well-being of the Puerto Rican people". In seeking to assure Americans that his government is prepared for the storm, Trump has also tried to defend his administration's response to Hurricane Maria, calling it an "unsung success".
The Trump administration faced criticism for its relief efforts in Puerto Rico from lawmakers in both parties, who have said the White House was too slow to respond in the wake of the hurricane and didn't send enough people to the island to rebuild infrastructure and speed medical supplies, food and water to communities there.
No one suggests that Trump was primarily responsible for the deaths in Puerto Rico.
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