President Donald Trump said he thinks the federal government did a "fantastic job in Puerto Rico" despite the deaths of nearly 3,000 people after Hurricane Maria.
Trump told reporters at the White House Wednesday that, "We've put a lot of money and a lot of effort into Puerto Rico."
He said he thinks "most of the people of Puerto Rico really appreciate what we've done."
The U.S. territory's governor this week raised the official death toll from Hurricane Maria from 64 to 2,975 — almost twice the government's previous estimate. Puerto Rico's government commissioned the study by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, which found that the official death count was low in part because physicians were not trained on how to certify deaths after a disaster.
Trump pointed to the island's pre-existing financial and infrastructure challenges, but falsely claimed its electric plant "was dead" and "shut" before Maria hit.
Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority is more than $9 billion in debt, but was operating.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, reacting on MSNBC to what she called Trump's "self-accolades," said his comments Wednesday showed "that he just doesn't get it, isn't capable of getting it."
"We died because bureaucracy and inefficiency took ahold of things," she said. "We died because many in the political class in Puerto Rico decided to dance to Donald Trump's tune rather than doing what everybody ought to do, which is tell the truth, no matter how mighty the person that you're telling the truth seems."
Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Tuesday he would create a commission to implement recommendations in the new report and create a registry of the people expected to be most vulnerable in a future storm, such as the elderly, bedridden or kidney-dialysis patients.
"The focus shouldn't be, you know, hey, let's blame all these folks. The focus should be who's going to be accountable and who's going to take the action so this doesn't happen again," Rossello told CBS News.
Asked whether his decision not to criticize Trump in the aftermath of the storm was strategic and part of an effort not to lose out on help, Rossello said that his focus "was on seeing how much I could get for the people of Puerto Rico."
"I think I have been critical of the federal government. I have just been very specific about it," he said, adding that in most cases Trump came through with what he asked for during phone calls.
He said, though, that "the bureaucracy has been paralyzing."