President Trump has begun to back on accusations his government did not do enough to help Puerto Rico after it was hit by two hurricanes last year.
“I think we did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico,” the president told reporters Wednesday. “We’re still helping Puerto Rico. [The governor] is very happy with the job we’ve done.”
The president went on to point out the unique problems of this rescue. The electric plant was “dead before the hurricanes.” It was much harder to get supplies onto the island than it was to help Texas and Florida with their hurricane recovery, and “Puerto Rico had a lot of difficulties before it got hit, and we’re straightening out those difficulties even now.”
On Thursday, he doubled down with tweets that challenged the death totals now being reported. In one tweet, the president said, “3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the island, AFTER the storms 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 3,000.”
In another, he charged “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 death tolls rose dramatically after two university studies commissioned by the governor, but the White House has pointed out state and local authorities are responsible for death counts – the low and high ones – and “added that the study used by Puerto Rico’s governor to set the new, higher death count for the hurricane took ‘more expansive views of mortality both in disaster impact and disaster time than any previous storm.’”
In other words, almost anyone who died in the five months after the storm came to be considered a storm victim.
Lt. Gov. Luis Rivera Marin told Fox News on Wednesday that federal officials were on the scene quickly and that much of food rations and water provided by Washington was allowed to sit and rot by local officials who declined to distribute it.
“Certainly for the last year what we’ve had is federal agencies standing shoulder to shoulder with PR making sure we can recover,” Marin said.
Numerous news sources pounced on Trump’s claims that the death toll wasn’t as high or that the federal response wasn’t as bad.
“Trump claims without evidence that 3,000 people did not die in Puerto Rico,” read the headline on CNBC’s piece. “Trump’s Dubious Revisionist History of Hurricane Maria,” stated the Atlantic headline.
“FACT CHECK: ‘Puerto Rico Was An Incredible, Unsung Success,” wrote National Public Radio. “Trump’s argument … is that he because Puerto Rico was hit hard by two hurricanes in a row and already faced infrastructure and other challenges, the federal response was really quite good, despite residents going many months without power, food and water relief failing to get to those who needed it and a death toll that was recently revised upward into the thousands.”
It quoted a tweet from the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, as saying, “Success? Federal response according to Trump in Puerto Rico a success? If he thinks the death of 3,000 people os [sic] a success God help us all.”
“Pres. Trump rejects independent study that reports an estimated 2,975 people died in Puerto Rico in 5 months after Hurricane Maria; provides no evidence to discount the study; declares, without evidence, that the higher death toll is political play to make him look bad,” read a tweet from MSNBC.
The Washington Post headlined its piece, “Why Trump’s grotesque tweets about Puerto Rico are obviously untrue.”
Unstated by any of these outlets is what he did wrong, what more he could have done or what death toll would have led to his response having been deemed adequate.