Over 130 lawmakers condemn Trump remarks on hurricane death toll in Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN – U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with 116 of their House and 14 Senate lawmakers, sent a letter to President Trump denouncing his recent statements about the fatalities in Puerto Rico from hurricanes Irma and Maria and their aftermath.
The lawmakers’ letter, which comes nearly one year since Hurricane Maria’s landfall in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, calls on Trump to apologize and acknowledge the official death toll.
Puerto Rico’s official death toll stands at 2,975 and is based on a study commissioned by the Government of Puerto Rico and carried out by researchers at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. The figure is consistent with other estimates, including a study by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico, and the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
In their letter, the lawmakers condemn Trump’s tweets about the death toll in which he claimed that “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico” and suggested that the death toll was inflated by Democrats in order to smear him politically.
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…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
“These comments were grossly inaccurate, callous, embarrassing and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President of the United States,” the lawmakers wrote. “…[Y]ou sought to distort the truth and, in doing so, gravely insulted the mourning families of the thousands of American citizens who died from Maria and the storm’s aftermath.”
The lawmakers also rejected the president’s remarks as an attempt to deflect blame from his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria. “The lost lives of U.S. citizens are no political stunt, and this is not a partisan matter,” the lawmakers continued. “In fact, one could easily surmise that your comment is a blatant effort to politicize this national tragedy to distract, divide and deflect blame from how the federal government responded to the hurricane.”
The lawmakers called on the president to apologize for his statements about the death toll, to improve his efforts to aid Puerto Rico in its recovery, and to ensure his administration provides an effective response to Hurricane Florence.
The full text of the letter is below. A .pdf with the full list of signatories is available here.
September 18, 2018
President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We write to denounce your recent statements about the fatalities in Puerto Rico from Hurricanes Irma and Maria and their aftermath. These comments were grossly inaccurate, callous, embarrassing and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President of the United States. We call on you to immediately apologize and set the record straight by publicly acknowledging the official death toll.
As you are well aware, Puerto Rico’s official death toll currently stands at 2,975 and was based on a months-long study by researchers at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. This figure is consistent with other credible estimates, including a study by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico, and the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Furthermore, the Puerto Rico government’s own official mortality data showed that “there were at least 1,400 additional deaths on the island in the months after Hurricane Maria as compared with the same time the previous year.” When you wrote on Twitter, “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” you sought to distort the truth and, in doing so, gravely insulted the mourning families of the thousands of American citizens who died from Maria and the storm’s aftermath.
Your claim that the increased death toll “was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible” is highly offensive—not just to your fellow public servants who happen not to share your party affiliation, but also to the people of Puerto Rico who lost friends and family in the hurricanes and their aftermath. The lost lives of U.S. citizens are no political stunt, and this is not a partisan matter. In fact, one could easily surmise that your comment is a blatant effort to politicize this national tragedy to distract, divide and deflect blame from how the federal government responded to the hurricane.
Finally, your comment “If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list” betrayed a profound misinterpretation of hurricanes’ impact on mortality. Many lives lost in the weeks following the hurricane could have been prevented by an effective response—but they were not. You then doubled down on this comment in multiple tweets the next day. It is unclear whether your commentary on this topic stems from ignorance of the post-storm reality in Puerto Rico or a willful effort to mislead and manipulate the American people about the humanitarian crisis that befell their fellow citizens. Regardless of your motivation, this false statement is unacceptable and must be retracted.
After a disaster, the President needs to lead the country in the recovery effort, not attempt to shift blame or openly question the tragic loss of life. As President of the United States, you have a solemn obligation to lead and serve all American citizens, regardless of their political party or whether they reside in the mainland United States or in the territories. In impugning the Island’s suffering after Maria, you have abdicated that responsibility.
Puerto Ricans are American citizens who have served and shed blood in our wars, giving their lives to defend our nation’s freedoms. They deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect we would afford any American citizens following a catastrophic storm.
To that end, we call on you to apologize for your unconscionable and unfounded claims, which belittle the scale of the tragedy suffered by the people of Puerto Rico and dishonestly cast partisan blame for their deaths. We also ask that you improve your efforts to aid Puerto Rico in its recovery and to ensure your Administration provides an effective, efficient and compassionate response to Hurricane Florence. You owe this to the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and across the United States of America.
Estimate the Excess Mortality in Puerto Rico Tied to Hurricane Maria,” February 22, 2018, https://publichealth.gwu.edu/content/milken-institute-sph-project-will-estimate-excess-mortality-puerto-rico-tied-hurricane-maria.