Utah’s Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox pushes back on Trump’s dismissal of Puerto Rico’s hurricane death toll

FILE - In this June 1, 2018 file photo, a child shines a light on hundreds of shoes at a memorial for those killed by Hurricane Maria, in front of the Puerto Rico Capitol in San Juan. Puerto Rico has conceded that Hurricane Maria killed more than 1,400 people on the island last year and not just the 64 in the official death toll. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)

President Donald Trump drew vocal criticism Thursday after a series of early-morning tweets that dismissed the deaths of thousands of Americans in Puerto Rico as a result of devastation from 2017′s Hurricane Maria.

“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Trump wrote. “When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much.”

Trump later added in a second tweet that the larger reported death toll was the work of Democrats attempting to recast the president’s successful response to the tragedy.

Among the voices correcting the president’s tweets online was that of Spencer Cox, Utah’s Republican lieutenant governor, who went to Puerto Rico to do volunteer aid work in the aftermath of the 2017 Hurricane season.

Cox tweeted photos of his visit to the island on Thursday, saying the devastation was “heart-breaking” to witness firsthand.

“I spent a [sic] 5 days volunteering in Puerto Rico several months after the Hurricanes,” Cox wrote. “We all knew — without a doubt — that the death-toll had to be in the thousands instead of the 18 initially reported.”

Cox is an occasional critic of Trump’s most divisive statements and policies. He gained international attention in June after tweeting that he wanted to “punch someone” over the administration’s separation of migrant families and detention of children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Political tribalism is stupid,” Cox wrote. “It sucks [and] it’s dangerous. We are all part of the problem.”

A former member of the Utah Legislature, Cox is also seen as a likely candidate for the state’s 2020 gubernatorial election.

While initial fatalities from Hurricane Maria were reported in low, double-digit figures, the territorial government’s official death count was raised to 2,975 following an independent study by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. Researchers concluded that larger numbers of Puerto Ricans died following the initial storm devastation as a result of lost access to power, supplies, medical treatment, transportation and communication.