When asked about the President’s tweet this morning blaming Democrats for the death toll, House Speaker Paul Ryan said he had no reason to dispute the latest numbers, but he did not directly comment on the President making false statements.
“Casualties don’t make a person look bad so I have no reason to dispute these numbers,” he told reporters on Thursday.
He continued: “I’ll just say what I just said, which is there is no reason to dispute these numbers. This is a devastating storm that hit an isolated island. And that’s really no one’s fault. It’s just what happened.”
Ryan’s comments come after Trump’s tweets, where he said falsely stated that 3,000 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,” he said in a tweet Thursday morning as Carolinians prepared to be pummeled by Hurricane Florence.
He later tweeted: “…..This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”
Earlier this month, the island’s governor formally raised the death toll from Hurricane Maria to an estimated 2,975 from 64 following a study conducted by researchers at The George Washington University. CNN’s own reporting reflects similar numbers. The university study accounted for Puerto Ricans who succumbed to the stifling heat and other aftereffects of the storm and had not been previously counted in official figures. Much of the US territory was without power for weeks.
Meanwhile, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham defended Trump and said he didn’t use the “right words” when talking about the death toll after Hurricane Maria, and later added he questioned the number.
“I don’t think those are the right words when you talk about loss of life,” he said, adding he doesn’t “buy the idea that the President is indifferent to our friends in Puerto Rico.”
“(The death toll) jumped like thousands. I don’t know what they are associating with the hurricane — what kind of methodology did you use?” Graham said. “The goal is to find out what happened. What could local people do better. What could the federal government do better. How many people actually died from this hurricane? I think that’s a good thing for Congress to look at.”
After Trump’s tweet, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio quote-tweeted himself on the response to the hurricane, writing that the tragedy is “political.”
“These days even tragedy becomes political. 3k more Americans died in #PuertoRico after Hurricane than during comparable periods before. Both Fed & local gov made mistakes. We all need to stop the blame game & focus on recovery, helping those still hurting & fixing the mistakes,” he wrote in the tweet.
CNN’s Manu Raju, Sunlen Serfaty and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.