SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump has been "overly criticized" for his response to the deadly storm that struck Puerto Rico last year, but neither the president nor his critics should be politicizing the tragedy, Rep. Chris Stewart said.
"I just think if we can keep politics out of it, help those people who are suffering, I just think that's a better response. I think most Americans feel that way as well," Stewart, R-Utah, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Wednesday evening.
His comments came before Trump tweeted Thursday a recent official report putting Puerto Rico's death toll from 2017's Hurricane Maria at nearly 3,000, was wrong and "done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible."
Thursday, Stewart's spokeswoman, Daryn Frischknecht, said the congressman "doesn't have anything to add to the conversation" about the president's assessment of the death toll.
Stewart was being interviewed Wednesday about Trump's earlier statements that his administration's handling of the hurricane that hit the U.S. territory was "an incredible, unsung success" and "one of the best jobs that's ever been done."
The cable news network showed images during the interview of some 38 million bottles of water that were part of the disaster relief effort but still sitting in crates at an airport.
"If that's true, it's too bad. Let's do better. But I don't think it helps to just point fingers at the president or the mayor. Let's just go in and fix it," Stewart said. He said officials at all levels of government in Puerto Rico also shared responsibility.
"Look, there was probably nothing we could do to save every life on the island. It was just such a powerful storm," the congressman said, adding that he believes Trump "has been, I think, overly criticized for his response."
II just think if we can keep politics out of it, help those people who are suffering, I just think that's a better response. I think most Americans feel that way as well.
–Rep. Chris Stewart
Stewart said in the face of what he termed "a remarkable event," FEMA officials and others "did everything they possibly could. But in an enormous endeavor like this, not everything is perfect."
He said it was "not helpful" for either the president or one of his chief critics on the administration's response, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, "to be talking about it in a political way."