Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE roiled Democrats and Republicans alike on Thursday with a pair of tweets alleging that Democrats inflated statistics on the number of people killed by hurricanes last year in Puerto Rico.
 
"3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico," Trump tweeted. He went on to claim, without evidence, that the number was purposefully exaggerated by Democrats "to make me look as bad as possible."
Both parties were quick to push back on the president's claim. Among those who issued statements were Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisTrump privately bashing DeSantis as 'disloyal' after breaking with him on Puerto Rico death toll: report DeSantis 'hell bent' on debating Gillum in Florida governor race Trump stands by tweets questioning Puerto Rico death toll: 'NO WAY' MORE (R), two of Trump's staunchest defenders in Florida who are both currently running for office.
 
"I disagree with [the president] - an independent study said thousands were lost and Gov. [Ricardo] Rosselló agreed. I've been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand. The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching," Scott tweeted on Thursday afternoon.
 
DeSantis's office issued a statement saying he is "committed to standing with the Puerto Rican community, especially after such a tragic loss of life. He doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated."
 
Another Republican official in Florida, who was appointed by Scott to the state's Board of Governors, went even further. "Mr. President. SHUT UP," Alan Levine tweeted. "Any death, whether one or 3,000 is a tragedy. That doesn’t mean you caused it, and its not about you. Show compassion for the families."
Democrats and officials in Puerto Rico were also quick to pounce on Trump's claims.
 
"The number is based on facts and the truth. More people died in Puerto Rico than died in Hurricane Katrina, and than died in the attacks of 9/11. That is not fake news, Mr. President," said Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), a Chicago-born son of two Puerto Rican parents, in a House floor speech Thursday.
  
"The victims of Puerto Rico and the people of Puerto Rico in general do not deserve for [the death count] to be questioned," said Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (D) in a Facebook Live video in Spanish early Thursday.
 
"Today I've seen that the number and process of excess mortality have been questioned," he added. "I ask the president of the United States to make sure that all agencies adequately invest the necessary resources to continue working favorably for the people of Puerto Rico."
 
Trump's tweets were in reference to a commissioned report issued by George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health last month, which set the official death count from Hurricanes Maria and Irma at 2,975.
 
The study found the excess mortality rate by comparing estimates of typical nondisaster death rates over six months to the actual mortality rate over the six months following Maria.
 
Rosselló, who holds a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, said he reviewed GW's scientific process himself, and decided to use the study's final tally as the official death count.
 
"It's time not to fight, not for political noise, not to use these things for the benefit of one party or another. It's time to remember all of those who lost their life," he said.
 
But San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who emerged in the aftermath of the destruction in Puerto Rico as one of the president's fiercest critics, called Trump's tweets "appalling."
 
"This is what denial following neglect looks like: Mr Pres in the real world people died on your watch," she said on Twitter.
 
Democrats in Washington were also quick to pounce on Trump's comments.
 
"The fact that the president will not take responsibility for his Administration’s failures and will not even recognize that thousands have perished shows us, once again, that he is not fit to serve as our President," said Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonTrump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash Washington to finally focus on threat to supply-chain risk management Mississippi to test limits of Medicaid work requirements MORE (D-Miss.), the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee.
 
"He should resign at once — and this Republican-led Congress must stop being complacent and finally conduct a comprehensive investigation — as we did after Katrina — into how 2,975 were allowed to die,” added Thompson.
 
Several members criticized Trump for framing the official death count as an attack on him.
 
"Only Donald Trump would try to make the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans into a story about himself and his political fortunes," said Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDems' confidence swells with midterms fast approaching Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash Hoyer lays out government reform blueprint MORE (D-Md.), the House minority whip.
 
Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) took a similar tone.
 
"3,000 people died and Donald Trump wants us to believe he is the victim," she tweeted.
 
 
"We deserve and expect more from someone who holds the highest office in our country," tweeted Nelson.
 
Florida's Puerto Rican population has boomed over the past decade, and the Puerto Rican migration to the Sunshine State only increased after Maria.
 
Puerto Ricans in Florida have become a crucial electoral bloc in the state, which both Nelson and Scott have actively pursued.
 
"The only message Trump will understand will be the punishment to his party in November at the hands of Puerto Rican voters in the United States who with their votes will say, 'enough,' " Federico de Jesús, a Democratic strategist and former deputy director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration told La Opinion newspaper.
 
 
"And now you dance on their graves to disguise your tragic incompetence," he added.
 
State Rep. Amy Mercado (D) said Trump's comments were "repugnant, full of evil and they show the type of person he is."
 
She criticized Scott and DeSantis, who's running to replace Scott, for supporting Trump's handling of the disaster.
 
"Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis meanwhile continue rejoicing in [Trump's] actions during Hurricane Maria, saying they wouldn't have done anything differently. Scott and DeSantis should immediately denounce these declarations and end this despicable behavior," said Mercado, who is of Puerto Rican origin and represents a district that is more than 50 percent Hispanic.
 
Republicans on Capitol Hill treaded more carefully, while avoiding directly questioning the official death toll.
 
Just as Trump was tweeting about the Puerto Rico death toll on Thursday morning, House Republicans were being told by GOP leadership to stay on message ahead of the midterms and sell their legislative accomplishments to the public.
 
But Republicans were repeatedly asked about Trump’s tweets — not the economy or tax reform — as they trickled out of the closed-door conference meeting.
 
Some members were more eager than others to weigh in.
 
“Everything is so personal for him. He wants to always spin a good story, but using the deaths of Puerto Rico hurricane victims might be a new low — and boy, that’s saying something,” retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Cuomo wins and Manafort plea deal Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash GOP lawmaker tears into Trump's 'warped mind' after tweet questioning Puerto Rico death toll MORE (R-Fla.), a frequent Trump critic, told reporters Thursday morning.
 
Ros-Lehtinen added that only “a warped mind” would “turn this statistic into, ‘Oh, fake news is trying to hurt my image.’ ”
 
“How can you be so self-centered and try to distort the truth so much?” she continued. “It’s just mind-boggling.”
 
Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerTrump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash Congress reaches deal to fund government through Dec. 7, preventing shutdown GOP says House votes will take place despite Hurricane Florence MORE (R-N.C.), whose state is currently bracing for Hurricane Florence, said he had no reason to believe that that the death toll numbers were distorted by Democrats to hurt Trump.
 
“I’m assuming that if that’s what we’re hearing from the island, that that’s the death toll,” Walker told The Hill. “I would give them credibility.” 
 
Other GOP lawmakers, however, brushed aside questions about Trump’s Puerto Rico comments, saying they hadn’t seen his tweets.
 
Meanwhile, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCorey Stewart fires aide who helped bring far-right ideas to campaign: report GOP super PAC hits Randy Bryce with ad starring his brother Super PACs spend big in high-stakes midterms MORE (R-Wis.) at his weekly press conference gently pushed back without directly invoking the president's name: "I have no reason to dispute these numbers."
 
Ryan noted that he personally witnessed the devastation during a visit to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
 
"It was devastating. It was a horrible storm. I toured the entire island and it's an isolated island that lost its infrastructure and power for a long time. You couldn't get to people for a long time on the island because roads were washed out, power was gone, and casualties mounted for a long time," Ryan said. "So I have no reason to dispute those numbers. Those are just the facts of what happened when a horrible hurricane hits an isolated place like an island." 
 
When another reporter followed up and asked if Trump needed to apologize to Puerto Ricans, Ryan called Hurricane Maria a "devastating storm" that was "really no one's fault."
 
Jordain Carney, Mike Lillis and Max Greenwood contributed to this story.