President Trump’s controversial tweet that questions how many Puerto Ricans were killed by last year’s Hurricane Maria ignited a furious reaction by Florida lawmakers on Thursday, including rare criticism from his closest Republican allies.
Trump tweeted that “3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” claiming that the number “was done by Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico.”
The Puerto Rican government recently estimated that 2,975 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria’s impact on their island, a revision of its original estimate of 64. The higher estimate came from detailed research done by George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health.
Democrats immediately reacted with disbelief and vitriol to the president’s tweet, but Florida Republicans who often avoid responding to Trump’s comments were forced to comment as well.
Governor Rick Scott, a close ally of Trump’s who rarely disagrees with him, tweeted that “I disagree with @POTUS – an independent study said thousands were lost and Gov. Rosello 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.”
Scott – who has been courting the Hispanic vote in his current run for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Bill Nelson, last May defended Trump’s response in Puerto Rico. When a reporter asked him what he would have done differently than the federal government did in its response to the natural disaster, Scott said: “I don’t know what I would have done differently than the federal government did in Puerto Rico. “
Ron DeSantis, whose victory in Florida’s gubernatorial primary has been attributed greatly to Trump’s endorsement, issued a statement via a spokesman that said: “Ron DeSantis is committed to standing with the Puerto Rican community, especially after such a tragic loss of life. He doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated.”
“These days even tragedy becomes political,” tweeted Senator Marco Rubio. “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.”
Florida Democrats were in no mood to stay above the fray, however.
“Donald Trump today desecrated the thousands of Puerto Ricans who died in Hurricane Maria,” said Central Florida state Senator Victor Torres. “His tweets are painful and horrifying and completely unfounded.”
“The comments made by Donald Trump are disgusting, vile, and show just who he is,” added Orlando state House Rep. Amy Mercado.
“For the Commander in Chief to deny this tragic loss of life, a number verified by numerous orgs, is cruel, abhorrent & completely outrageous,” tweeted Palm Beach County Congresswoman Lois Frankel.
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, running for reelection against Governor Scott, called Trump’s comments “shameful, and said that the American public deserve and expect more from someone who holds the highest office in our country.”