Paul Ryan: ‘No reason to dispute’ Puerto Rico death toll

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAt indoor rally, Pence says election runs through Wisconsin Juan Williams: Breaking down the debates Peterson faces fight of his career in deep-red Minnesota district MORE (R-Wis.) said Thursday that he has "no reason" to dispute the finding that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria, despite President TrumpDonald John TrumpBarr criticizes DOJ in speech declaring all agency power 'is invested in the attorney general' Military leaders asked about using heat ray on protesters outside White House: report Powell warns failure to reach COVID-19 deal could 'scar and damage' economy MORE doing so earlier in the day.

“Casualties don’t make a person look bad,” Ryan told reporters at a press conference, according to Reuters. “I have no reason to dispute these numbers.”


Ryan added that he visited Puerto Rico after the hurricane hit and that what he saw was "devastating."

"This was a horrible storm,” he said. 

His comments came just hours after Trump, without evidence, accused Democratic lawmakers of inflating Hurricane Maria's death toll in order to "make [him] look as bad as possible."

"3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico," Trump tweeted early Thursday morning. "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.

"This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible." 

GOP and Democratic lawmakers quickly voiced outrage at the remark. A pair of Trump's staunchest supporters who are running for office in Florida were among the many politicians to denounce the president's comments. 

"The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching," Florida Governor Rick Scott tweeted on Thursday afternoon.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) also issued a statement saying he is "committed to standing with the Puerto Rican community, especially after such a tragic loss of life." 

In late August, researchers from George Washington University published an independent study that revealed nearly 3,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria. The figure represented a sharp increase from the initial death count of 64 and led the Puerto Rican government to officially update the death toll. 

GWU issued a statement on Thursday in support of university researchers who led the study. 

"We stand by the science underlying our study which found there were an estimated 2,975 excess deaths in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria," GWU's Milken Institute School of Public Health said in a statement. The government of Puerto Rico also referred to the number as a "fact."