Trump revisits Puerto Rico claim after White House clean-up

Trump revisits Puerto Rico claim after White House clean-up


WASHINGTON — Donald Trump defiantly stood by his rejection of Puerto Rico’s official death toll Thursday evening, hours after the White House attempted to downplay the president’s initial tweets.

Trump tweeted Thursday morning that 3,000 “did not die” in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico last year, arguing that it included people who died for any reason in the following five months.

The president also suggested without evidence that the revision of the death toll late last month — from 64 to 2,975 — was politically motivated.

The study, which was conducted by George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, tallied all the deaths in Puerto Rico following the storm and then subtracted an estimate for the amount of deaths that would have taken place during that period under normal circumstances.

It concluded that 2,975 more people died than usual, attributing the jump to Hurricane Maria.

The Milken Institute released a statement on Thursday affirming its findings.

“We stand by the science underlying our study which found there were an estimated 2,975 excess deaths in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria,” the statement said. “…We are confident that the number — 2,975 — is the most accurate and unbiased estimate of excess mortality to date.”

Hours after Trump tweeted, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley attempted to smooth the president’s message.

“As the President said, every death from Hurricane Maria is a horror. Before, during, and after the two massive hurricanes, the President directed the entire Administration to provide unprecedented support to Puerto Rico,” Gidley said. “President Trump was responding to the liberal media and [San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz] who sadly, have tried to exploit the devastation by pushing out a constant stream of misinformation and false accusations.”

That evening, however, Trump retweeted a video of Fox Business host Lou Dobbs host arguing that the study was inappropriately inflated.

After Thursday’s initial tweet, Florida Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis, who are running for Senate and governor, respectively, as well as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) all rebuked the president’s tweet.

The controversy takes place amid the federal response to Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in North Carolina Friday morning.

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