WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday denied that nearly 3,000 died as a result of Hurricane Maria, contradicting the Puerto Rican government's formal death toll, increased after a George Washington University study.
- Trump contradicts Puerto Rican government's official Maria death toll
- President tweets that 3,000 people didn't die in Puerto Rico
- He called the elevated death toll an attempt to make him look bad
- Political leaders disagree with president's tweets
- CRISIS IN PUERTO RICO: Full coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria
"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 said in a tweet Thursday morning.
In a second tweet, Trump said the 2,975 death toll was a plot by Democrats to make him look bad.
The death toll was officially 64 until earlier this month, when Puerto Rico's governor raised it following a study by researchers at George Washington University that accounted for Puerto Ricans who died amid the heat, lack of electricity and other effects. Much of the U.S. territory was without power for weeks after the storm hit in September 2017, and even now, there are small pockets of the island without power.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle pushed back Thursday.
Some Republicans, like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) Wisconsin, also broke with the president's assessment.
“I have no reason to dispute those numbers," Rep. Ryan said. "Those are just the facts of what happens when a horrible hurricane hits an isolated place like an island."
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló also released an official statement in response to the president's tweet.
"The people of Puerto Rico deserve a full accounting of the impact of the storm, and they deserve recognition of that impact by our president," he wrote.
Florida's political leaders responded by disagreeing with the president.
“For the president to be in denial of this makes absolutely no sense," said Rep. Val Demings, D-Orlando.
“To say Democrats are trying to make him look bad, Mr. President, do you really believe that this has anything to do with you? Maybe it’s about the people that we, including the President, are supposed to be representing," Demings said.
Trump earlier this week said that his administration's handling of Maria was "an incredible, unsung success."
But in July, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report blasting its own response to Maria. The 2017 Hurricane Season FEMA After-Action Report says officials took days to get supplies to the island and then struggled with distribution and tracking of supplies.
“The disaster in Puerto Rico was one of the worst in history, over 3,000 people died, more than double the longest blackout in the history of the United States, since we’ve had electricity," said Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee. "It's an underfunded, slow to react response from the Trump administration, that now we know for a fact has cost us lives," he said.
George Washington University released a statement on Thursday and stood by their study that determined the storm killed far more people on the island than originally suggested.
Information from the Associated Press and CNN was used in this report.