President Donald Trump avoided talk of hurricanes during what was supposed to have been a meeting on disaster preparedness Wednesday, holding forth on everything but a significantly increased estimate of deaths in Puerto Rico linked to Hurricane Maria, The Washington Post reported.
Leaked audio from the 40-minute meeting at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters captured Trump musing about the cost of purchasing military equipment, attacking California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom, praising Foxconn for building a factory in Wisconsin and attempting to reassure his Cabinet members that they were very popular.
While speaking to the cameras for about 15 minutes, Trump briefly mentioned Puerto Rico and states hit by disasters, but didn’t address the recent Harvard study that estimated nearly 5,000 deaths on the island may be linked to Maria. The government’s official death toll from the storm was 64.
Trump did, however, thank FEMA officials and Cabinet members for their response to last year’s hurricane season.
“We really appreciate the job you’ve done. I want to thank you very much,” he said.
The Trump administration has been heavily criticized for its response to the storm. On Wednesday, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called for a 9/11-style commission to investigate the Puerto Rico death toll. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) said the federal response is Trump’s “most significant failure.”
Trump has in the past downplayed the effects of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, saying it wasn’t a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina in 2005. More than 1,800 deaths in the Gulf Coast area were directly or indirectly related to Hurricane Katrina.
The White House didn’t immediately answer HuffPost’s request for comment.