Just after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney refused President Bush’s request to head up a “cabinet-level task force” aimed at speeding the recovery effort, writes the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman in a still-embargoed section of his new book, “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.”
When asked by Bush if he would “at least go do a fact-finding trip for us,” Cheney responded saying, “That’ll probably be the extent of it”:
Days after the storm had passed, when he finally returned to Washington from Crawford, Bush assembled his senior staff in the Oval Office. He was going to set up a cabinet-level task force, he said.
“I asked Dick if he’d be interested in spearheading this,” Bush announced. “Let’s just say I didn’t get the most positive response.” Bush nodded ironically toward the vice president, putting on a show for the others: Card, Rove, Bartlett, Condi Rice. His expression, the tone of voice, had a hint of edge. Can you believe this guy? [...]
“Will you at least go do a fact-finding trip for us?” Bush asked.
“That’ll probably be the extent of it, Mr. President, unless you order otherwise,” Cheney replied.
Gellman writes that White House counselor Dan Bartlett “came to see Cheney’s demurral ‘quite frankly as pretty good judgment.’ Cheney ‘doesn’t do touchy-feely,’ Bartlett said.”
Cheney’s refusal to lend the weight of his office to the Katrina recovery effort is not surprising, as he has a record of underestimating the seriousness of Katrina’s devastation. As the storm hit, Cheney was reluctant to cut his vacation short. In September 2005, Cheney commented dismissively, “I think we are in fact on our way to getting on top of the whole Katrina exercise.”
During his fact-finding trip to the affected region, Cheney was famously insulted on live television. As 2005 came to a close, Cheney scrambled to take advantage of the Katrina tax relief act, which was aimed at spurring Katrina-related increases in charitable donations. When his tax returns were released, however, it appeared that “none of [Cheney's] charitable contributions actually went to Katrina-related charities.” Since then, Cheney has reportedly “tried to kill proposals to increase…aid for Hurricane Katrina victims.”