In her new memoir, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reflects on her decision to take a vacation at the time of Hurricane Katrina, a move that she now describes as “tone-deaf.”
As Katrina approached the Gulf Coast, Rice was coming off nine months of travel to 46 countries.
When friends invited her to New York for the U.S. Open tennis championships, Rice was grateful for the “opportunity to break away from the daily grind.”
“I didn’t think much about the dire warnings of an approaching hurricane called Katrina,” she wrote in the book, “No Higher Honor,” which hit stores Tuesday.
After the storm had hit land, Rice called Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to ask if there was anything she could do. Chertoff said the situation was “pretty bad,” and that he’d call if he needed anything.
So Rice went to see the musical comedy “Spamalot.” The next morning, she went shopping at the designer shoe store Ferragamo.
When she returned to her hotel, “the airwaves were filled with devastating pictures from New Orleans,” Rice wrote. “And the faces of most of the people in distress were black. I knew right away that I should never have left Washington.”
Apparently Rice’s chief of staff and President Bush agreed.
“I’m coming home,” Rice told her chief of staff Brian Gunderson. “Yeah. You’d better do that,” he replied.
Bush had the same response after Rice called to tell him she was cutting her trip short.
“’Mr. President, I’m coming back. I don’t know how much I can do, but we clearly have a race problem,’” she recalls saying.
“Yeah. Why don’t you come on back?” Bush replied.
“I actually hadn’t expected that from the president,” Rice wrote. “That’s odd, I thought. He’d been so insistent that I go and get some rest. He’s really worried.”
Shortly after, Rice saw that her “Spamalot” outing had become a headline on the Drudge Report.
“[I] sat there kicking myself for having been so tone-deaf,” she wrote. “I wasn’t just the secretary of State with responsibility for foreign affairs; I was the highest-ranking black in the administration and a key advisor to the president. What had I been thinking?”