Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended President Bush on Sunday against charges that the government's sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina showed racial insensitivity.
"Nobody, especially the president, would have left people unattended on the basis of race," the administration's highest-ranking black said as she toured damaged parts of her native Alabama. Later, during a service at the Pilgrim Rest AME Zion church outside Mobile, Rice nodded in agreement as the Rev. Malone Smith Jr. advised the congregation, "Wait for the Lord."
"There are some things the president can do; there are some things the government can do," Smith told about 300 worshippers during a rollicking two-hour service. "But God can do all things. I want you to know he's never late. He's always on time."
Rice later echoed the call for patience. "The Lord is going to come on time — if we just wait," she was quoted as saying by Newsmax.
It was a sort of homecoming for Rice, an Alabama native and granddaughter of a Presbyterian minister.
Her visit came as some black leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have complained bitterly about the slow response to the disaster, whose victims have been disproportionately black and poor. They have said racial injustice was a factor in the government's slow relief effort.
"How can that be the case? Americans don't want to see Americans suffer," Rice said. "Nobody, especially the president, would have left people unattended on the basis of race."
Since Katrina struck, an estimated 70 nations, from Azerbaijan to Venezuela, have offered hundreds of millions in cash donations for the federal government to relay to the American Red Cross, Rice said. Many countries have also donated supplies, ranging from helicopters and medical aid to food and blankets.