Rick Santorum (AP/Seth Wenig)

Rick Santorum incorrectly called Puerto Rico a "country" on CNN, and Anderson Cooper said nothing

The former GOP senator blamed "the country of Puerto Rico" for its "woefully deficient" response to Hurricane Maria


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Rachel Leah
September 12, 2018 7:04PM (UTC)

Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate, blamed "the country of Puerto Rico" for its "woefully deficient" response to Hurricane Maria. To be clear, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.

It was recently revealed that nearly 3,000 people died from the hurricane and its aftermath — a number, which is comparable to the death toll in the 9/11 attacks. Santorum, who is now a political commentator for CNN, was speaking Tuesday with Anderson Cooper when he made the much-maligned comments.

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As the country prepares for Hurricane Florence to hit the Carolinas, the inadequate response to Maria by President Donald Trump's administration has been revisited, as well as the president's own statements, which have consistently downplayed the loss of American lives.

Even after a new death toll was revealed by university researchers – one that drastically differed from the government's official count of 64 – the president has not changed his tune. During a press conference in the Oval Office Tuesday, Trump described the administration's response to Hurricane Maria as "incredibly successful" and said it was "one of the best jobs that's ever been done."

Anderson Cooper asked Santorum if he believed that Trump should bear some responsibility for the neglect of Puerto Ricans and the devastating death toll on the island. "The federal response is an important component of it," Santorum replied. "But, as we all know, the primary responsibility — the people who are most responsible for that response — is not FEMA."

"FEMA is not a huge operation that can do all things," Santorum continued. "It is a thing that supplements state and local — in this case, the country of Puerto Rico, their response — and of course, that was woefully deficient."

Neither Cooper or his guests so much as flinched at the glaringly inaccurate statement. Santorum added that there were errors made on the part of FEMA and also by "the inability of the Puerto Rican government to respond."

"So yes, do they have blame? Absolutely, there's blame to be put on FEMA for not providing more help to an organization that needed more help," he said. "But to throw it all on the federal government? It's simply not fair, and it's a misreading of how emergency response actually happens."

READ MORE: Another ho-hum summer with Donald Trump: All the season's big news stories you wish you could forget

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As MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle tweeted in response to Santorum's remarks, "Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. You don't need a passport to fly to Puerto Rico from anywhere within the United States. If you wanna blame 'the country,' we're it."

But Santorum is not alone among Republicans. In Trump's Cabinet, Energy Secretary Rick Perry also referred to Puerto Rico as its own country in October during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing and was quickly called out for it.

https://twitter.com/NBCNews/status/918563769424531457?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E918563769424531457%7Ctwcon%5Elogo&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.chron.com%2Fnews%2Fpolitics%2Fus%2Farticle%2FRick-Perry-forgot-that-Puerto-Rico-was-part-of-12273847.php

Many people on social media were equally as baffled by Santorum's framing of Puerto as its own country – especially that no one corrected him.

Hurricane relief where Trump failed

Residents in Puerto Rico are still in need of life-saving basics after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

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Rachel Leah

Rachel Leah is a culture writer for Salon. You can follow her on Twitter: @rachelkleah

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