“Nearly 3,000 people died. That is not a ‘success.’ That is a tragedy and a disgrace.” —Sen. Bernie Sanders
President Donald Trump provoked immediate outrage on Tuesday with his “disgusting” declaration on national television that the federal government’s widely condemned response to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria—which led to thousands of dead Americans—”was an incredible, unsung success.”
“I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful,” the president said. “I actually think it was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”
“Shame on President Trump,” responded Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.). “Puerto Rico is one of Trump’s most significant failures to date!”
Trump’s remarks came during a briefing on Hurricane Florence, a “historic” storm that is currently charging toward Virginia and the Carolinas, forcing more than a million residents to evacuate. The backlash was swift, with critics pointing to the incredibly high death toll after the hurricane struck Puerto Rico last September.
While the initial official death toll of 64 has long been dismissed as ridiculously inaccurate, a government-commissioned study published in late August updated that number to 2,975. Previously, Harvard researchers in May estimated that between 4,645 and 5,740 people died in the U.S. territory due to the hurricane.
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In response to the president’s comments on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who has criticized the Trump administration’s failed recovery efforts, and introduced an aid package for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands last November—tweeted: “Nearly 3,000 people died. That is not a ‘success.’ That is a tragedy and a disgrace.”
“3,000 dead Americans isn’t an ‘unsung success,’ it’s a national disgrace,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). “It’s nothing but disrespect for the memory of those lost in Puerto Rico, torn from their homes, and all those still struggling.”
“Success? Federal response according to Trump in Puerto Rico a success? If he thinks the death of 3,000 people [is] a success God help us all,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, another vocal critic of how Trump has handled the crisis, responded in a series of tweets. “Trump simply does not get it. Thus his neglect towards Puerto Rico cost about 3,000 lives. Unfortunately, it seems he will never get it.”
Attorney and CNN commentator Angela Rye told Jake Tapper on Tuesday: “It’s an unsung inaccuracy, to go from 64 to make that kind of leap in thousands, not to mention the number of people and families who had to relocate completely off the island, not to mention the fact that their economy is now on life support, and electricity’s not all the way functioning.”
“It’s far from a success,” Rye continued, “and the fact that Donald Trump today would spend more time singing his own praises rather than really leaning into a conversation with people in leadership there to figure out how they can really overcome and really have a success story for this particular storm I think is very telling.”
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