“Mr. Cuomo, you’re simply just making this stuff up.”
During a CNN interview on Thursday morning, Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) defended President Trump’s threat to end relief efforts in Puerto Rico, where a humanitarian crisis has been underway for the past three weeks following Hurricane Maria, and accused the media of making up reports about the desperate circumstances on the island.
In response to Cuomo pointing out that less than half of the 3.4 million on the U.S. territory have access to “what you need to sustain life… fresh water, power, food, place[s] to live,” Perry told him, “Mr. Cuomo, you’re simply just making this stuff up. You’re making it up.”
“If half the country [sic] didn’t have food or water, those people would be dying. And they’re not,” he added.
Perry downplayed the severity of the crisis, at one point asking, rhetorically, “So if the water gets there five minutes late, is that a crisis?”
But on-the-ground reports from Puerto Rico are at odds with Perry’s confidence that things are under control. On Tuesday, a resident of the town of Atlaya told CBS, “It’s horrible, it’s horrible. It’s a nightmare…. There’s barely any drinking water, not even in supermarkets; my fear is for my kids.” With nearly 90 percent of the island still lacking power, the confirmed death toll of 45 will rise — an examination of local reports by Vox found that the actual death toll may exceed 500. And with about a third of the island still lacking portable water, those who are ill or at risk of falling ill remain in grave danger.
Not long after Perry’s CNN interview ended, CBS’s David Begnaud shared an on-the-ground account of his visit to a hospital in Canóvanas, Puerto Rico, that is low on insulin, lit by candles, and unable to perform X-rays because of an electricity shortage.
But both Perry and Trump want people to believe that things aren’t that bad. Part of Trump’s Puerto Rico strategy — a strategy Perry adopted during his CNN interview — has been to attack the media. In the three weeks since Hurricane Maria hit, Trump has repeatedly accused reporters of making up stories about the crisis.
During an appearance before reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday, Trump said he finds it “frankly disgusting” that “the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it.” He then accused mainstream media outlets of simply making up sources.
“And then they have their sources that don’t exist, in my opinion they don’t exist,” he said. “They make up the sources. There are no sources.”
While Trump’s attacks may be resonating with Republican members of Congress like Perry, in private, U.S. officials are acknowledging that the situation in Puerto Rico is dire, with problems that go beyond simply restoring electricity and providing people with water.
On Wednesday, The Guardian reported that “[o]fficials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) say that the government and its partners are only providing 200,000 meals a day to meet the needs of more than 2 million people. That is a daily shortfall of between 1.8m and 5.8m meals.”
And yet on Thursday morning, Trump threatened in a tweet to pull “FEMA, the Military & the First Responders” off the island, citing Puerto Rico’s “financial crisis.”