House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday said he had “no reason to dispute” a government-funded study that concluded nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, a finding President Donald Trump rejected in tweets earlier in the day.
Ryan did not condemn Trump’s controversial claims, including a conspiratorial assertion that Democrats inflated the death toll to make “look as bad as possible.”
The Republican congressman didn’t fault the president for his response to the storm, though critics have accused Trump of neglecting Puerto Rico and undermining the detrimental impact the hurricane had on the US island.
“Casualties don’t make a person look bad,” Ryan told reporters. “I have no reason to dispute these numbers. I was in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. It was devastated. This was a horrible storm. I toured the entire island. It’s an isolated island that lost its infrastructure and its power for a long time.”
Others were far more critical of Trump and his claim “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico”— particularly San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.
Responding to Trump’s assertions about the death toll, Cruz tweeted, “This is what denial following neglect looks like: Mr Pres in the real world people died on your watch. YOUR LACK OF RESPECT IS APPALLING!”
In subsequent tweets, she referred to Trump as a “bully” and “delusional, paranoid, and unhinged from any sense of reality.”
Similarly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, accused Trump of spreading “alternative facts” in reference to his Thursday tweets on Puerto Rico, and called on congressional Republicans to hold him accountable.
Even Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, an ally of Trump who is running for Senate in the state, pushed against the president’s claims.
“I disagree with @POTUS- an independent study said thousands were lost and Gov. Rosselló 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 tweeted Thursday.
Trump’s remarks and the widespread backlash that followed come as the East Coast is bracing for Hurricane Florence, which is expected to hit the Carolinas particularly hard.