WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said there’s “no reason” to dispute the Hurricane Maria death toll in Puerto Rico disputed in tweets this morning from President Trump, who argued that the tally was inflated to make him look bad.
“Neither the people of Puerto Rico nor the victims deserve their pain to be questioned,” GOP Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said in response to Trump’s tweets.
Two weeks ago, the death toll from September 2017’s Hurricane Maria was increased to more than 46 times the previous official government tally.
There were 2,975 deaths attributed to the hurricane. Comparatively, the official death toll in 2005’s Hurricane Katrina is 1,833.
Earlier this week, Trump called the U.S. response in Puerto Rico “an incredible unsung success.”
“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,” the president tweeted this morning.
“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,” he continued. “If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted in response, “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.”
Former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), a strong Trump supporter running for governor, said through a spokesman that he “doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated.”
At his weekly news conference today, Ryan said, “Casualties don’t make a person look bad. That’s not — so I have no reason to dispute these numbers.”
“I was in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. It was devastated. This was a horrible storm,” he said. “I toured the entire island, and it’s an isolated island that lost its infrastructure and its power for a long time. You couldn’t get to people for a long time on the island because roads were washed out, power was gone and the casualties mounted for a long time.”
“So I have no reason to dispute those numbers. Those are just the facts of what happens when a horrible hurricane hits an isolated place like an island.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he didn’t think Trump used “the right words when you talk about loss of life” but questioned why the death toll “jumped like thousands” and said it would be good for Congress to study “how many people actually died from this hurricane.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted, “These days even tragedy becomes political. 3k more Americans died in #PuertoRico after Hurricane than during comparable periods before. Both Fed & local gov made mistakes. We all need to stop the blame game & focus on recovery, helping those still hurting & fixing the mistakes.”