WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and a number of President Bush’s other top advisers met Saturday with black leaders amid allegations that indifference to black suffering slowed the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., past chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he believes the administration was partly interested in offering assurances that any missteps in getting relief to the victims — many of them black — would be corrected.
“I think a lot of people in the African-American community — and others, by the way — share Bush’s view that the results of his efforts have been unacceptable,” Cummings said after the meeting at the White House.
“I think they wanted to make sure that the leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Urban League and the NAACP knew that they were very sensitive to trying to make sure that things went right from here on out. And I think they wanted to try to dispel any kind of notions that the administration did not care about African-American people — or anyone else.”
Where to from here?
But Cummings said that while the race issue was discussed, the issue consumed only about seven minutes of the two-hour meeting. “This was a where-do-we-go-from-here meeting,” he said. “We were more concerned about how do we get them the resources that they need.”
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the group discussed evacuation plans, strategies for saving and sustaining lives, temporary housing and ways to work with community groups and faith-based groups to handle long-term needs of the displaced.
In addition to Chertoff, he said the other participants were Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson, White House domestic policy adviser Claude Allen, NAACP President Bruce Gordon and National Urban League President Marc Morial, a former mayor of New Orleans.
The current chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., participated by phone.
Jesse Jackson and some black lawmakers have said that racial injustice was at the root of the disaster response. While agreeing that the black community had been heavily affected, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the administration’s top-ranking black, has disputed that claim.
“Americans don’t want to see Americans suffer,” Rice said in an interview Friday on American Urban Radio Networks. “He (Bush) wants to do everything he can for every American. ... I just don’t believe that people would somehow decide this on the basis of color. It’s not who we are.”
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