Updated 11:43 a.m. | President Donald Trump warned those in Hurricane Florence’s path of the storm’s power, but then returned to attacking his foes and painting himself as the victim of an internal FBI scheme to damage him politically. And he essentially accused Puerto Rican officials and Democrats of lying about how many people died there after Hurricane Maria pummeled the island.
“That doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know why he’d say that,” Florida GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo told reporters when informed of the president’s tweet saying the death toll from Hurricane Maria was a ploy by Democrats.
“We should all be focused on what’s about to happen in the Carolinas and stop politicizing this issue of hurricanes and hurricane relief,” Curbelo said.
“I find it regrettable that anyone would want to politicize what happened in Puerto Rico especially because people died and because there are still people struggling to recover. I mean from day one this has been politicized,” Curbelo added. “You had Democrats in Florida celebrating that Puerto Ricans were moving to Florida because they thought it would be good for them politically. And you have the president saying this was the best hurricane response in history. I don’t see any basis for that.”
Unlike following other Trump controversies, Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Thursday did not defend the president.
"Casualties don't make a person look bad," the Wisconsin Republican told reporters. "I have no reason to dispute these numbers."
Ryan visited Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the hurricane and observed how bad the devastation was. "Those were just the horrible facts of when a hurricane hits an isolated place like an island," he said of the high death toll.
Former Rep. Ron DeSantis, his party's Florida gubernatorial nominee, also did not defend Trump nor dispute the official death toll figures.
Many Democratic members voiced their outrage on Twitter.
Is this really the day for something like this? Seriously, it's time for @realDonaldTrump to put down the phone, stop tweeting & start rising to the occasion- there's a major hurricane bearing down on millions of Americans & the President is spending the morning rewriting history https://t.co/QWpX2RGHmt— Rep. Cheri Bustos (@RepCheri) September 13, 2018
3,000 Americans died, and the President of the United States somehow thinks he's the victim. Absolutely pathetic. @RealDonaldTrump, stop lying to the American people. This is a new low, even for you. https://t.co/bs8R386cX6— Rep. Dan Kildee (@RepDanKildee) September 13, 2018
This is a new low, even for the Pres that's responsible for keeping innocent children in prisons.How DARE you cast aside Americans who died in #PuertoRico bc of your ego. You don't get to throw some paper towels at a crowd and claim victory. Disgusting. #PuertoRicoDeathToll https://t.co/TMKumhEG5w — Carolyn B. Maloney (@RepMaloney) September 13, 2018
Florence is churning off the North Carolina coast and has been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane, but federal weather analysts warn it soon will dump potential record levels of rain on the Carolinas. Despite the downgrade, the president tweeted Thursday morning that Florence only “gets even larger and more powerful. Be careful!”
Trump shoehorned a presidential statement about the hurricane in between Twitter attacks on banker Jamie Dimon and current and former FBI agents he contends tried during the 2016 campaign to wreck his White House bid.
Even as it appeared millions of Americans soon would feel Florence’s wrath and face significant damage to their property, electrical outages of possibly weeks and other hardships, the president that former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon calls a “street fighter” was brawling with Dimon.
The banker on Wednesday said he could defeat Trump in a general election but would be unlikely to win over liberal Democrats in a primary. If Dimon was out to get a rise out of the president, he succeeded.
Trump lashed out on Twitter, writing that Dimon “doesn’t have the aptitude or ‘smarts’ & is a poor public speaker & nervous mess - otherwise he is wonderful.”
“I’ve made a lot of bankers, and others, look much smarter than they are with my great economic policy!” he wrote.
The problem with banker Jamie Dimon running for President is that he doesn’t have the aptitude or “smarts” & is a poor public speaker & nervous mess - otherwise he is wonderful. I’ve made a lot of bankers, and others, look much smarter than they are with my great economic policy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
Then came the brief, by comparison, hurricane warning tweet.
We are completely ready for hurricane Florence, as the storm gets even larger and more powerful. Be careful!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
Then it was back on the offensive, calling text messages traded during the campaign by former FBI agent Peter Strzok and Lisa Page while they were romantically linked a “disaster and embarrassment to the FBI & DOJ,” adding the episode “should never have happened but we are learning more and more by the hour.
For the second time this week, Trump did not mask that he was responding to Fox News programming, quoting anchor Gregg Jarrett who contended others inside the bureau were “leaking like mad” to take down candidate Trump.
More text messages between former FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page are a disaster and embarrassment to the FBI & DOJ. This should never have happened but we are learning more and more by the hour. “Others were leaking like mad” in order to get the President! ........— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
.....”It is a cesspool of corruption, and the people who did this need to be brought to justice.” @GreggJarrett— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
A tweet after those that suggested Florence’s approach conjuring the Maria aftermath on Puerto Rico has gotten under the president’s skin.
Trump claimed that after his paper towel-throwing visit to the U.S. territory after Maria has passed, “they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths.”
He claimed that “3000 people did not die,” writing that “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…”
Flashback to 2017: Puerto Rican-Born Lawmaker Blasts Trump’s Puerto Rico Tweets
Trump earlier this week called his administration’s response on Puerto Rico an “unsung” success, prompting the ire of Democratic lawmakers.
"The comments made by Donald Trump are disgusting, vile, and show just who he is," Rep. Amy Mercado, D-Fla., said in a statement. "The lives lost because of Maria were very real, and the island is still dealing with the devastating effects and poor federal response. "
She and Curbelo were not alone.
Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Homeland Security ranking member, and other Democrats accused the president of trying to "rewrite history."
“The people of Puerto Rico were left without electricity for almost a year. They suffered greatly in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria,” Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois tweeted. “The President has forgotten the obvious, and he shouldn’t be bragging about the response to that hurricane.”
It was Durbin and other Democrats, in Trump’s mind, who are responsible for the higher death toll figures. He fired off another tweet contending Democrats inflated the numbers “to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico.”
He accused Democrats and Puerto Rican officials of driving up the death toll by adding deaths due to “any reason, like old age.”
He ended that tweet with a remark that likely will bring angry responses from Democrats and Puerto Rican officials: “I love Puerto Rico!”
3000 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...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
.....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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018
Bridget Bowman and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.