As Hurricane Florence approached the Carolinas, President Trump drew attention on Thursday from the government's preparations for the monster storm for his personal complaints about Hurricane Maria last year, falsely calling for a plot to increase the death toll in Puerto Rico.
Trump drew immediate humiliations from Democrats as well as some Republicans over denying a sweeping study accepted by Puerto Rican authorities, estimating that there were 2,975 "surplus deaths" on the island in the six months after Maria landed. Trump did not provide any evidence and falsely claimed that the Democrats had increased the number of dead "to make me look as bad as possible".
The Trump administration has been sharply criticized for its efforts to revive Maria, who devastated the territory of Puerto Rico in September 2017, although the president insisted this week that his treatment of Maria was an "incredible, unsung success."
Trump's theses on Thursday attempted to minimize the deaths of thousands of American citizens while apparently evading responsibility for government response to natural disasters. He also sought refuge, as he usually does in conspiracy theories, claiming that a hidden hand was at work to sabotage him.
With that, Trump issued political security holes for his party eight weeks before the midterm elections, especially in Florida, where Puerto Rican immigrants form a highly valued bloc. The Republican candidates in the hotly debated governor and senatorial race of the state distanced themselves from his comments.
"I do not agree with @POTUS" twittered Florida Governor Rick Scott (R), a Trump ally who runs for Senate. "I've been to Puerto Rico seven times and seen first-hand devastation."
Trump's charge of the Puerto Rican storm – a humanitarian crisis that continues to affect life on the island a year later – baffled his advisors and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials who have been working to prepare the Carolinas for Hurricane Florence deadly storm to land.
Trump's aides said they had tried to draw the president's attention to Florence for having conducted daily disaster consultations and appointing governors, senators, and other officials from North Carolina and South Carolina. Officials have brought large, colorful charts and graphics to the Oval Office to illustrate Florence's dangerous way for Trump, who is a visual learner. And the president made a rare trip outside to visit the National Security Council Resilience Office staff across the street in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said he received telephone calls from the President and other officials, calling him an unprecedented level of public relations. Trump seemed to be interested in how hurricanes work and how Florence would end up, calling it "a really nasty" one.
"His main question for me was: 'What are you most worried about?'" Graham said of Trump. He said, "Why should someone stay? Why would you stay? & # 39; "
"I'm not to blame"
Still, the government said Trump had been distracted by news from the cable newspaper about his mismanagement of Maria this week, as well as the revelations in Bob Woodward's new book "Fear." The president was fixated on polls, said a consultant. This week, the adjutant said that a CNN poll that dropped below 40 percent approval only came from Massachusetts residents.
Trump was particularly awakened by the repetition of photographs in which, two weeks after Maria, he threw paper towels at a group of auxiliaries in Puerto Rico, an episode that symbolizes the president's lack of empathy in the eyes of his critics.
"I'm not responsible for that," recalled a counselor Trump in a private conversation about Maria. In such talks, the president also destroyed the power company in Puerto Rico and the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who in the immediate aftermath of the storm publicly pleaded for a stronger reaction to Trump and sharply criticized the president.
Thursday Tomorrow on TwitterTrump denied major damage from the Puerto Rican hurricane: "3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico, and when I left the island after the storm fell, they had somewhere between 6 and 18 dead."
When Trump visited the island area last October, the officials told him in a briefing that 16 people had died of Maria. But Puerto Ricans doubled the death toll later to 34.
Trump's Tweet continued, "Things did not get much better with time, then, long time later, they started reporting really big numbers like 3000. That was done by the Democrats to make me look as bad as possible "When I successfully raised billions of dollars to rebuild Puerto Rico, if a person died for some reason, such as old age, just add them to the list." Poor politics, I love Puerto Rico! "
Trump has described completely wrongly how the death toll of 2,975 corresponded to the study conducted by the George Washington University.
GWU researchers have not attributed to Maria the death of a particular individual. Given the methodology, there was no way to misclassify someone who died in old age, as Trump suggested.
The study looked at the number of deaths from September 2017 to February 2018 and compared that with what might have been expected from historical patterns. They took into account many variables, including the departure of hundreds of thousands of islanders to Maria.
Had the GWU researchers done what Trump claimed to have killed Maria, the hurricane's six-month death toll would have been 16,608.
Carlos Santos-Burgoa, principal investigator of the GWU study and professor at the Department of Global Health, said he and his colleagues are unprejudiced in their work.
"We stand by the science that underlies our study, it's rigorous, it's state-of-the-art, we've collected data from the official sources, everything can be validated," he said. "We did not get pressure from anyone to go either way, we would not do it, we're public health professionals."
Late Thursday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley issued a statement in which he tried to suppress the outrage over the president's tweet.
"As the President said, every death caused by Hurricane Maria is a horror," he wrote, adding, "President Trump responded to the liberal media and the mayor of San Juan who tried to exploit the devastation of misinformation and false accusations "
Historian Douglas Brinkley, who has written a book on Hurricane Katrina that devastated Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005 and is a black trail for the legacy of President George W. Bush, said presidents "can not try to chase people down because of natural disasters, because they inflame people ".
"Death is so haunting to people, and Trump is Cavalier and Braggadocios about it," Brinkley said. "Who in American history will say that the Trump reaction to Hurricane Maria was an 'A plus'? Nobody."
Trump's brazen comments on the deaths in Puerto Rico attracted only occasional criticism among Republican MPs and underlined the anxiety of most GOP politicians to meet a president who enjoys deep and firm support among the party's base voters.
"To be honest, I did not come in the middle of it," said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, Republican of Senate No. 2, when asked about Trump's tweets.
Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) Told reporters that he had "no reason to deny" the death toll of nearly 3,000. "These are just the facts of what happens when a terrible hurricane hits an isolated place like an island," he said.
Retired MP Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) Was a rare GOP critic. She called the president's tweets on Puerto Rico "heartless" and said she would support an investigation into the federal's response to hurricane Maria.
"It's unnecessarily hurtful and absolutely wrong," she said. "He doubts the death count and makes it about himself."
But Trump's quick defense from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) More reflected the consensus among House Republicans. "I understand that the president's frustration with what has been essentially done well now causes new grievances," he said.
Another Republican of the House of Representatives argued that the media were historically biased to judge the blame for natural disasters, and defended Bush's dealings with Katrina.
"You never say Republicans deal with hurricanes and Democrats when you talk to the press," said Representative Roger Williams (R-Tex.). "I was a Bush guy, and he was hammered for Katrina when he did the right thing in many cases."
However, Bush administration officials publicly stated that they had not adequately prepared for this hurricane.
The Democrats were in agreement to condemn Trump's allegations. They expressed confusion and indignation at the president's behavior and vowed to use their summons to investigate his government's reaction to Mary if they win the majority of the House.
"There are not enough adjectives and adverbs in the English language to describe my reaction," said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.).
Representative Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) Said the Democrats plan to demonstrate against Trump's "competence" and continue to question the statement of the week that the Trump Administration's US Immigration and Customs Authority, the agency, is almost questioning $ 10 million has been provided to FEMA implementing the President's zero-tolerance immigration policy, which resulted in children being separated from their parents.
Eighty percent of Puerto Ricans said Trump had done a fair or a bad job managing last year's hurricane. This is from a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey released this week.
Graham explained Trump's public comments on Puerto Rico as saying, "He feels attacked and assaulted, and when attacked, he squeezes back and feels like this story is politically motivated."
Michael D & # 039; Antonio, a trump biographer, said this was a pattern throughout the President's life – even in elementary school, when teachers complained about his behavior, he would act rather than take responsibility.
"He has always – always – been scared of being blamed for anything, and the pursuit of alternative explanations has been intense at every step of his life," said D & # 39; Antonio. "There had to be a conspiracy at work, a crime, a hidden hand."
Joel Achenbach, Ashley Parker and John Wagner contributed to this report.