He said this. When he was down there in Puerto Rico on October 3, 2017, purportedly comforting his fellow Americans who had gone through Hell and were prepared for more Hell to come, El Presidente actually said “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you threw our budget a little out of whack. But that’s fine.”
“Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like [Hurricane] Katrina, and you look at what happened here,” Trump also said, before asking an official sitting nearby, “what is your death count?”
The official said 16 deaths had been confirmed.
“Sixteen people, verified; 16 versus in the thousands,” Trump continued. “You can be very proud all of your people, all of our people, 16 versus literally thousands of people, you can be very proud.”
The actual number turned out to be 3,057 American citizens dead. Close enough for government work.
A year later, El Presidente held a press briefing to celebrate the victory the United States had achieved over the evil forces of Mother Nature.
“I actually think it was one of the best jobs that’s ever been with respect to what this is all about,” Trump said. Noting that the island had problems with its infrastructure before the storm (and, falsely, that it “had no electricity essentially before the storm”), he praised his administration’s efforts.
“The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did” he said, “in Puerto Rico, I think, was tremendous. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success.”
The President’s impartial assessment to the contrary much work remains to be done in the rebuilding effort. Hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm and an estimated 280,000 residents fled to the Mainland. Poverty rate on the island increased from 44.3% to 52.3%. This compared to an overall poverty rate in the United States of 12.3%. Hurricane Maria isn’t to blame for everything, of course. But she did make a significant contribution to the ongoing disaster.
There’s no question that progress has been made in rebuilding Puerto Rico. Nonprofit organizations have had more of an impact than governmental bureaus. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. But it’s counter-productive to declare victory when a significant amount of work remains to be done. Even though it may be politically expedient.