Trump sends Carson to Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria anniversary

One year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico — and one week after President Donald Trump denied the storm’s death toll of nearly 3,000 — the Trump administration is sending a delegation of senior administration officials to the island.

Led by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, a cadre of 20 administration officials are meeting with Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and other local officials “to discuss ongoing recovery efforts as we continue building a stronger, more resilient Puerto Rico,” deputy White House press secretary Lindsay Walters said in a statement.

The group will visit the Joint Recovery Office in Guaynabo, where they will meet and thank federal personnel supporting Puerto Rico’s recovery. They will then attend an official ceremony to memorialize the anniversary, according to Walters. Carson will deliver remarks on behalf of the administration.

Earlier Thursday, the White House sent a fact sheet to reporters touting the administration’s “historic recovery effort” and “significant progress” over the year since Maria’s landfall. The fact sheet acknowledged that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has “worked to address lessons learned” from the hurricane.

Last week, Trump faced bipartisan backlash for his tweet asserting that 3,000 people did not die as a result of the hurricane.

“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,” he wrote.

After Trump received backlash from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers over this false claim, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley released a statement last week that said: “As the President said, every death from Hurricane Maria is a horror. Before, during, and after the two massive hurricanes, the President directed the entire Administration to provide unprecedented support to Puerto Rico.”

Earlier this month, Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rosselló formally raised the death toll from Hurricane Maria to an estimated 2,975 from 64 following a study conducted by researchers at The George Washington University. CNN’s own reporting reflects similar numbers. The university study accounted for Puerto Ricans who succumbed to the stifling heat and other aftereffects of the storm and had not been previously counted in official figures. Much of the US territory was without power for weeks.

Asked Thursday whether there is any doubt in his mind that 3,000 Puerto Ricans lost their lives as a result of the storm, Rosselló told CNN: “No, there isn’t… I evaluated everything that they did, and it is my view that it was a very well-done estimate of the death toll numbers.”