Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Sunday in an interview on CNN that the federal government is to blame for the deaths following Hurricane Maria.
“What we saw in Puerto Rico was a mass death of 3,000 people,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It was the worst humanitarian crisis in modern American history, and many, many people impacted by this storm point to government inaction as the cause of death.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks came in response to a pair of tweets by President Donald Trump. In the tweets, the president questioned the accuracy of the new death toll estimate, which Governor Rossello of Puerto Rico has accepted as the official death toll.
In addition, Trump suggested that the new numbers had made up by Democrats “to make me look as bad as possible.” No evidence for this claim was provided, and White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley explained the president’s meaning by saying, “President Trump was responding to the liberal media and the San Juan Mayor who, sadly, have tried to exploit the devastation by pushing out a constant stream of misinformation and false accusations.”
Ocasio-Cortez was not the only angry voice. Senator Chris Murphy (D–CT) tweeted, “It started with a 1901 Supreme Court case saying Puerto Rico deserved second class status because it was “inhabited by alien races.” And it continues today, with Trump’s denial of hurricane deaths.”
Many private citizens tweeted a sense of outrage and called for investigations.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) tweeted, ““It’s just a shameful failure of leadership. Republicans decided the didn’t want to embarrass the administration and therefore they weren’t going to examine the cause of so many people dying.”
Politico pointed out that Hurricane Katrina’s response was followed by an investigative committee within 17 days, and resulted in more than 1,000 pages of reports in the first eight months. There has so far been one report on Hurricane Maria’s disaster response from FEMA and one from the GAO, but no Congress-led investigation.
The article also quoted disaster experts saying that one of the problems for Puerto Rico is “a lack of representation in Congress. [They} have one nonvoting representative in the House and no senators. That makes it even harder to pressure congressional leaders to investigate the storms.”
Tweets in the ongoing conversation have also pointed out that the lack of representation that comes with being a territory is a problem.
When Trump followed up his earlier tweets with a tweet accusing Puerto Rico’s government of corruption, some responses insisted, “We [USA] are their government” and others called for statehood.
Trump continued in the Twitter argument, tweeting, ““They say all these people died in the storm in Puerto Rico, yet 70% of the power was out before the storm. So when did people start dying? At what point do you recognize that what they are doing is a political agenda couched in the nice language of journalism?” @GeraldoRivera”
Retweets and responses continued at the rate of more than one per minute, according to SocialMention, a social media analysis app.