Over 130 Lawmakers Condemn Trump Remarks on Hurricane Death Toll in Puerto Rico

Sep 19, 2018
11:55 AM

The following Wednesday media release was shared by the office of Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren (D):

Washington, DC – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), along with 14 of their Senate colleagues and 116 of their House colleagues, 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 President Trump to immediately apologize and set the record straight by publicly acknowledging the official death toll.

Puerto Rico’s official death toll currently stands at 2,975 and is based on a months-long study commissioned by the Government of Puerto Rico and carried out 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.

In their letter to the President, the lawmakers strongly condemned President 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.

“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 a deliberate 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 President Trump to swiftly 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 Senators who signed the letter are Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Senator Warren has:

  • Led a group of 22 Members of Congress in questioning FEMA and HHS about the Puerto Rico death toll, including about the small fraction of applicants who had been approved for federal funeral assistance and how the government was updating its disaster preparation plans in light of this new information.
  • Wrote to Education Secretary DeVos calling on her to lower administrative hurdles for institutions of higher education affected by hurricanes to receive federal aid.
  • Introduced with Senator Sanders legislation to provide an avenue to comprehensive debt relief for Puerto Rico and other disaster-ravaged U.S. territories so they can recover and rebuild with dignity.
  • Introduced with Rep. Adriano Espaillat the Housing Victims of Major Disasters Act to ensure that survivors of Hurricane Maria and victims of future disasters have access to the support and resources they need to rebuild.
  • Introduced a bill to establish a “9/11-style” independent commission to investigate the federal response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico.
  • Questioned the nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about her role in the botched federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
  • Co-sponsored Senator Bill Nelson’s (D-Fla.) legislation to require FEMA to activate housing assistance for thousands of families still displaced by the hurricanes.
  • Along with Senator Markey, on multiple occasions over the course of monthsasked FEMA to stand up the Disaster Housing Assistance Program. The senators also met with Puerto Rican evacuees from Massachusetts.
  • Led 21 of her Senate and House colleagues in sending a letter to FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services seeking information about the official accounting of fatalities due to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.  This is a follow-up to a letter Senator Warren led on this subject in October.
  • Joined her colleagues in introducing new legislation to establish federal procedures for counting fatalities following a natural disaster.
  • Repeatedly called on FEMA to extend Transitional Shelter Assistance for evacuees from Puerto Rico, contributing to multiple extensions.
  • Led her colleagues in writing to the Internal Revenue Service requesting information on whether the IRS and its contractors implemented the debt collection program in a legal manner for taxpayers impacted by federally declared disasters.
  • Written to the Office of Management and Budget requesting information on how a proposal to reorganize and privatize the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS) would affect the Federal Statistical System, including preparations for the 2020 Census. She and Representative NydiaVelázquezsent a follow-up letter to OMB on May 16.
  • Joined Representative Nydia Velázquez’s letter to urge the Federal Communications Commission not to reduce the reach of its Lifeline program in Puerto Rico.
  • Joined her colleagues in sending a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opposing the planned appropriations process to distribute disaster aid funding to colleges impacted by the hurricanes and natural disasters.
  • Led her colleagues in calling on President Trump to hire a Homeland Security Advisor who takes seriously the role of climate change in triggering severe weather events that threaten the safety and security of our nation.
  • Co-sponsored a resolution by Senator Robert Menendez expressing concern about Puerto Rico six months after Hurricane Maria and acknowledging that the federal government must do more for the island.
  • Joined her colleagues in writing to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to request information about the draw-down of Army Corps personnel working on electricity restoration, especially on the island of Vieques.
  • Led her colleagues in writing to FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to request information on federal efforts to restore the electric grid in Puerto Rico, nearly six months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
  • Called on the Treasury Department to provide to Puerto Rico the full Community Disaster Loan appropriated by Congress, and to offer terms that will promote the island’s recovery.
  • Led a group of three senators in requesting information on FEMA’s plans to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season following the catastrophes in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Joined Senator Blumenthal in calling on the Department of Justice to investigate the contracting process for relief and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
  • Along with colleagues from both chambers of Congress and both sides of the aisle, reminded Puerto Rico’s Oversight Board that federal relief funds for Puerto Rico are intended for disaster relief and rebuilding, not for paying creditors.
  • Urged FEMA to extend benefits for the Transitional Shelter Assistance program to Puerto Rico evacuees.
  • Requested that the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security expand its review of FEMA’s contracting in Puerto Rico to include the $156 million contract awarded to Tribute Contracting LLC for self-heating meals.
  • Written to the Office of Management and Budget requesting information on how a proposal to reorganize and privatize the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS) would affect the Federal Statistical System, including preparations for the 2020 Census.
  • Led her colleagues in the Massachusetts congressional delegation in writing to the Food and Drug Administration highlighting the impact of drug and medical device shortages on Massachusetts medical centers after Hurricane Maria.
  • Led the Massachusetts congressional delegation in writing to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to request information on SAMHSA’s efforts to address mental health challenges in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Led a congressional delegation trip to Puerto Rico to conduct oversight of Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.
  • Led eight of her colleagues on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in writing to HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to request that the Committee hold hearings to assess the challenges facing the health and educational systems of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Called for an investigation of FEMA’s decision to award over $30 million in contracts to Bronze Star LLC for temporary roofing materials in Puerto Rico that were never delivered. (The DHS IG has said it will investigate.)
  • Introduced a comprehensive plan, along with Senator Sanders and colleagues, to address the immediate humanitarian needs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and ensure that the islands not only recover, but are able to rebuild in a way that empowers them to thrive.
  • Led five of her Senate colleagues in writing to the Department of Defense to request information on the Department’s efforts to provide medical care in the aftermath of Hurricanes Maria, and to request information on the role of the USNS Comfort in the Department’s Puerto Rico response efforts.
  • Joined colleagues in urging Senate appropriators to include in a third disaster supplemental bill additional funding to help schools impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Urged Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board to request that the Court overseeing Puerto Rico’s debt restructuring completely write off the Island’s debt obligations.
  • Led a group of 12 senators asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information about water- and vector-borne diseases in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Written to the Trump Administration outlining what ought to be included in a third disaster supplemental appropriations bill to address the damage caused by hurricanes and wildfires across the country.
  • Joined colleagues in demanding federal agencies expedite power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Joined in leading a group of 7 senators in pushing the Trump administration to increase efforts on Vieques and Culebra, especially securing the Vieques Superfund site.
  • Urged the Department of Education to use its discretion to help college students and student loan borrowers displaced or otherwise unable to continue their education in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Called for Puerto Rico’s debt relief during a Capitol Hill rally in coordination with the #JustRecovery march.
  • Participated in a FEMA briefing on the status of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Led a coalition of senators in a letter to President Trump, urging him to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra.
  • Held community meetings in Massachusetts to discuss the economic and humanitarian crises on the islands.
  • Pressed President Trump to take eight immediate, specific actions in response to the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Urged HHS to provide additional resources and better coordinate efforts to combat the growing public health crisis on the ground.
  • Called on the President to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to more swiftly respond to the disaster.
  • Written to Republican leadership requesting that Congress be allowed to promptly take up legislation to provide the necessary aid to the U.S. citizens living on the islands.
  • Asked President Trump to waive the local cost-sharing requirement for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and for the federal government to fully cover recovery expenses.
  • Joined Senator Markey in calling for a resolution to the Univision-Verizon retransmission dispute, to hasten the restoration of Spanish-language news programming in the wake of the hurricanes.


This is the letter that was sent: