Photos of dozens of pallets of bottled water sitting on the runway emerged this week and raised fresh questions about the federal government's handling in the aftermath of Maria, which devastated the island and was responsible for almost 3,000 deaths. Trump visited the island in early October to assess the situation amid widespread criticism over the recovery efforts.
Ron DeSantis ― who during the primary campaign dressed his infant son in a "Make America Great Again" onesie for a TV commercial to show his adoration of Trump ― released a statement disagreeing with Trump's assertion that 3,000 people did not die because of the storm and that the number was the work of Democrats.
There is no indication Trump raised "billions" to help rebuild the island and the government's Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) has said its response was strained after responding to two other major hurricanes weeks before Maria.
Even some Republicans suggested the president had gone too far. "I don't think it's bad to say we could have done better in Puerto Rico". He also said he thought Trump "sees every attack on him as sort of undercutting his legitimacy". Previous reports from the Puerto Rican government said the number was closer to 1,400. "The loss of any life is tragic".
"I don't want to comment on what the president said", said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who went on to ask why estimates of the dead had sharply increased over the past year.
The White House defended the president.
The attitude from the Trump administration toward the territories still reeling from Hurricanes Irma and Maria is unacceptable, she said. The study said the original estimates were so low because doctors on the island had not been trained to properly classify deaths after a natural disaster.
The president wrote in a tweet, "3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico".
The total death toll rose from 64 to 2,975 after an independent study conducted by researchers at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University found the number of people who died in the aftermath was severely undercounted. Kidney patients got abbreviated treatments from dialysis centers that lacked generator fuel and fresh water, despite pleas for federal and local officials to treat them as a higher priority, according to patient advocates.
Cruz blasted Trump last September for not reacting quickly enough after Maria slammed into Puerto Rico and knocked out power on the island, flooded roads, destroyed bridges and left thousands of people stranded. Trump in his tweets blamed Democrats for inflating the numbers.
That number was produced by public health experts at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in a report commissioned by the US territory's governor, Ricardo Rossello.
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