Donald Trump, left, talks about Hurricane Florence during a briefing in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, 11 September 2018, as FEMA Administrator Brock Long listens at right. Photo: Susan Walsh / AP Photo

By Catherine Lucey, Zeke Miller, and Jonathan Lemire
13 September 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump on Thursday rejected the official conclusion that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico from last year’s Hurricane Maria, arguing without evidence that the number was wrong and calling it a plot by Democrats to make him “look as bad as possible.”

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 U.S. territory last September. Trump visited the island in early October to assess the situation amid widespread criticism over the recovery efforts.

“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 tweeted.

He added: “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.”

Puerto Rico’s governor last month raised Maria’s official death toll from 64 to 2,975 after an independent study found that the number of people who succumbed in the sweltering aftermath had been severely undercounted. […]

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a Democrat who has sparred with Trump, quickly fired back, tweeting: “Simply put: delusional, paranoid, and unhinged from any sense of reality. Trump is so vain he thinks this is about him. NO IT IS NOT.”

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, whose parents were Puerto Rican immigrants, spoke on the House floor in front of a printout of the Puerto Rican flag, saying Trump is “delusional” and incapable or “empathy or basic human decency.”

“I pray that his response to the current disaster unfolding along the East Coast will be better and more empathetic,” he said. “He has a golf club in North Carolina and a winery in Virginia, so maybe the American people in those states will get more of the president’s help than my fellow Puerto Ricans did.” […]

When a reporter asked Trump about Maria in the Oval Office, he swiftly unleashed fact-challenged defense of his response to the hurricane. That led the cable news coverage that evening, further angering the president, according to one of the people.

Trump told confidants that the media was underplaying the challenging circumstances in Puerto Rico and trying to exploit the storm to attack him. He told one adviser that he felt that he media “would stop at nothing” to undermine him and blamed local authorities for their inept response. [more]

Trump rejects official Puerto Rico hurricane death toll

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