Trump Says Hurricane Maria Death Toll Was Invented by Democrats to Damage Him Politically

“3000 people did not die.”

Evan Vucci/AP

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With Hurricane Florence set to pummel the East Coast, President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to brag about his administration’s widely criticized response to last year’s Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico. Trump’s comments drew outrage, with critics pointing out that Maria led to the deaths of nearly 3,000 people. But Trump hasn’t been able to let the matter go. On Thursday, Trump insisted in a pair of tweets that the official death toll was concocted by “Democrats” as part of a conspiracy to “make me look as bad as possible.”

In fact, the Puerto Rico numbers were collected over months by researchers at George Washington University’s school of public health, at the request of the territory’s governor. As the New York Times explained in August:

At issue has been how to assess the severity of a storm whose devastating impact on fundamental needs—water, electricity, communications and medical care—seemed to rival or exceed that of the deadliest recent storms to hit the United States, but whose official fatality count until now was far less severe. By comparison, Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, is thought to have killed anywhere from 1,000 to more than 1,800 people.

The government’s latest revision brings to a close a year of debate and scientific scrutiny over fatality estimates that had seemed to vary widely—in some cases by thousands. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló faced constant political challenges over the disparity between the official death toll, released within weeks of the disaster, and what was apparent to most scientific researchers and reporters who investigated deaths. The inability to provide a reliable death count seemed, to many critics, to echo the dysfunction apparent in the island’s lack of preparation or any swift, effective response from the local and federal governments.

The report came nearly a year after a much-maligned visit to Puerto Rico by Trump two weeks after Maria, where he implied that residents should be “proud” that the official death toll at the time was just 16 people, far lower than that of a “real catastrophe, like Katrina.” That statement ignored the difficulty of counting deaths after the hurricane decimated the island’s infrastructure. In fact, by the time Trump got on his plane to return to Washington, that official death toll had already doubled.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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