MIAMI — U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown verbally attacked a top Bush administration official during a briefing on the Haiti crisis Wednesday, calling the President’s policy on the beleaguered nation “racist” and his representatives “a bunch of white men.”
Her outburst was directed at Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill. Noriega, a Mexican-American, is the State Department’s top official for Latin America.
“I think it was an emotional response of her frustration with the administration,” said David Simon, a spokesman for the Jacksonville Democrat. He noted that Brown, who is black, is “very passionate about Haiti.”
Brown sat directly across the table from Noriega and yelled into a microphone. Her comments sent a hush over the hourlong meeting, which was attended by about 30 people, including several members of Congress and Bush administration officials.
Noriega later told Brown: “As a Mexican-American, I deeply resent being called a racist and branded a white man,” according to three participants.
Brown then told him “you all look alike to me,” the participants said.
During the meeting, Brown criticized the administration’s response to the escalating violence in Haiti, where rebels opposing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government have seized control of large parts of the country.
After her comments about white men, Noriega said he would “relay that to (Secretary of State) Colin Powell and (national security adviser) Condoleezza Rice the next time I run into them,” participants said. Powell and Rice are black.
A State department spokesman did not return a phone message.
U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-West Palm Beach, who organized the meeting, called the comments “disappointing.”
“To sit there and browbeat this man who is a Mexican-American and call him names, it was inappropriate,” Foley said.
Brown has criticized the detention of Haitian migrants fleeing their country and the freezing of millions of dollars in aid over flawed 2000 legislative elections in the impoverished Caribbean nation. In a statement Wednesday, she made parallels to the disputed 2000 election in Florida.
“It simply mystifies me how President Bush, a president who was selected by the Supreme Court under more than questionable circumstances (in my district alone 27,000 votes were thrown out), is telling another country that their elections were not fair and that they are therefore undeserving of aid or international recognition,” Brown said.
Participants at the meeting included eight members of Florida’s congressional delegation, U.S. Reps. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; John Maisto, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States, and Adolfo Franco, an assistant administrator with the U.S. Agency for International Development.