As the Category 4 Hurricane Florence barrels towards the Carolinas this week, CNN’s Jake Tapper opened his show with two alternating quotes on the screen: “TOTALLY PREPARED” and “UNSUNG SUCCESS.”
Those were the words President Donald Trump used on Tuesday afternoon to describe his administration’s response to Hurricanes Florence and Maria, respectively. This is despite the fact that, according to an official report, last year’s Hurricane Maria directly or indirectly killed nearly 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
“President Trump says we're ‘totally prepared’ for the hurricane,” Tapper said at the top of his show. “Where have we heard that before?” After playing a clip of Trump “bragging” about his response to Hurricane Maria, the anchor added, “Observers were shocked when President Trump touted his administration's recovery efforts during the last hurricane season, where the latest government death toll in Puerto Rico is approximately 2,975.”
Speaking to White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, Tapper noted, “The president was specifically asked what lessons the government had learned from the last hurricane season. He replied that the response to Puerto Rico was incredibly successful. Is he not aware that the death toll in Puerto Rico has been updated to almost 3,000 innocent victims?”
“Certainly, you would think he would have to be aware,” Zeleny replied. “But he has never publicly acknowledged that. Really for the last year or so, ever since Hurricane Maria struck on September 20th of 2017, there certainly has been a sense from this White House that everything that they were doing was done well. The president, of course, we'll remember, was visiting Puerto Rico at the time, he gave himself an A-plus.”
Up until just a few weeks ago, the U.S. government was claiming only 64 people died as a result of that storm. “By not acknowledging any failure, any lessons learned, Jake, it makes you wonder what the government will say as we begin yet another deeply impactful hurricane heading toward the Carolinas,” Zeleny added.
Later, during a panel discussion, CNN contributor Angela Rye called the government’s original death-toll estimate an “unsung inaccuracy,” adding, “The fact that Donald Trump today would spend more time singing his own praises rather than really leaning into a conversation with people in leadership there to figure out how they can really overcome and really have a success story for this particular storm, I think is very telling.”