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Trump calls hurricane response in Puerto Rico 'incredible, unsung success'
President Trump said Tuesday that one of his administration's "best jobs" was the response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico last year, storms that officials estimate led to the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.
Trump was asked what lessons the government could take from 2017 as the federal government prepares for Hurricane Florence to barrel into the mid-Atlantic coast later this week.
"I think probably the hardest one we had by far was Puerto Rico because of the island nature, and I actually think it was one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about," Trump told reporters during an Oval Office briefing on the projected path of Florence.
"The job that FEMA, and law enforcement and everybody did working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, I think was tremendous," Trump added. "I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success."
He went on to tout that the government received "A pluses" for its work in Texas and Florida following hurricanes last year.
He has maintained that positivity even after the island's government acknowledged that nearly 3,000 people died because of the storm. Island officials increased the death toll late last month after a George Washington University study that assessed the aftermath of the storm found the number was significantly higher than the 64 deaths that had originally been reported.
Puerto Rico's government-owned utility announced last month that it had restored electricity to all of its customers, nearly 11 months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and Democratic lawmakers have been among the most vocal critics of the Trump administration's handling of Maria, arguing the government was too slow to respond and stalled the island's ability to get back on its feet.
Cruz slammed Trump's rosy assessment of the response in a Tuesday afternoon tweet:
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) followed suit, calling Trump's remarks "offensive, hurtful and blatantly false."
Trump spoke to reporters Tuesday about the government's effort to assess Hurricane Florence and its potential impacts when it makes landfall this week near the Carolinas.
"The safety of [the] American people is my absolute highest priority," he said, repeatedly warning of the scale of the storm. "We are sparing no expense. We are totally prepared. We are ready. We're as ready as anybody's ever been."
Trump has declared a state of emergency in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina ahead of Florence, which strengthened to a Category 4 storm on Monday.
Governors in all three states have issued orders to evacuate for residents in certain coastal areas as the storm approaches.
Trump earlier Tuesday declared after attending a 9/11 memorial event that the government was "absolutely and totally" prepared for Florence.
-Updated at 4:35 p.m.