Knight, Hill criticize Trump’s death toll tweet

Congressman Steve Knight answers questions about policy from students at College of the Canyons on March 13, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, stood by criticisms he issued on social media against President Donald Trump’s comments disputing death toll numbers in Puerto Rico from last year’s hurricanes.

Updated death toll statistics indicate nearly 3,000 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico — statistics that President Trump denied as reality.

The president tweeted Thursday morning: “3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from six to 18 deaths. As time went by, it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3,000.”

Knight said on Facebook Thursday morning that he condemned these comments, referring to his background as a former police officer and first responder as a reason that he values their severity.

The congressman maintained Thursday afternoon that he did not approve of Trump’s Twitter behavior.

“I think the tweet minimizes things and is inappropriate,” he said. “It was irresponsible for the president to be disputing death toll numbers while Hurricane Florence is about to hit the states here.”

Knight condemned a perception that he’s breaking with the Republican Party.

“We’re not trying to be political,” he said. “I just read it and got ticked off. We should be supportive and say, ‘We’re there to help you,’ and hopefully save the lives of people and be there for the recovery. If somebody says something on Twitter as an elected official, then we have the ability to say, ‘That’s not what we believe in our district, putting out an irresponsible tweet.’

“I wish it was face to face, but since we’ve got social media, then I think it’s OK that I respond to what the president tweets out,” he said.

Katie Hill, Knight’s 25th Congressional District challenger, also condemned Trump’s tweet, but was suspicious of the timing of Knight’s criticism.

“What the president tweeted today is reprehensible and irresponsible, and while I am glad that Steve Knight is speaking up, it shouldn’t have taken a contested election to push him to do so,” she said. “For nearly two years, he has sat quietly and supported Trump’s radical agenda, an agenda not in line with the values of our community. We deserve better.”

Knight said that he takes things case by case — he sometimes agrees with Trump, and sometimes breaks with the president based on the issue.

“There are also times that I agree with the president, and I am vocal about it,” he said. “I don’t know why people get riled up when I disagree, but they do.”


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