Laura Bush Knocks 'Plantation' Quip

Laura Bush criticized Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday for suggesting that the Republican-controlled House is run like a plantation where dissenting voices are ignored.

"It think it's ridiculous — it's a ridiculous comment," Mrs. Bush told reporters when asked about the remark during a return flight to Washington following her four-day swing through West Africa.

Clinton made the comment in Harlem at an event honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. She said the GOP was running the House "like a plantation" because ideas from the minority Democrats were not respected. The White House on Tuesday called the senator's comments "way out of line."

Clinton also blasted the Bush administration as "one of the worst" in U.S. history and offered an apology to a group of Hurricane Katrina survivors "on behalf of a government that left you behind, that turned its back on you."

Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday defended Sen. Hillary Clinton for describing the House of Representatives as a "plantation," saying he felt her choice of words referred to a "consolidation of power" in Washington that squeezes out the voters.

The senator told CNN's "American Morning" he believed that Clinton was merely expressing concern that special interests play such a large role in writing legislation that "the ordinary voter and even members of Congress who aren't in the majority party don't have much input."

"There's been a consolidation of power by the Republican Congress and this White House in which, if you are the ordinary voter, you don't have access," Obama said. "... That should be a source of concern for all of us.

Clinton said Monday: "We have a culture of corruption; we have cronyism; we have incompetence. I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country."

Mrs. Bush, who said her next trip likely will be to New Orleans to visit schools damaged in the hurricane, also reacted to a comment by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin that stirred controversy. Nagin had said: "This city will be chocolate at the end of the day." He later apologized.

Nagin also said the hurricane that devastated New Orleans was God's way of showing displeasure about U.S. involvement in Iraq. "Surely God is mad at America," Nagin said in a speech Monday. "Surely He's not approving of us being in Iraq under false pretense. But surely He's upset at black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves."

Asked about the comment, Mrs. Bush joked that she didn't really think she could speak for God. Then she added that she believes Nagin wants New Orleans to be rebuilt.

"He wants people who lived in New Orleans to come back," Mrs. Bush said. "I do to, and I know the president does too. You know it's going to take a long time."

Obama also said New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was correct to apologize for suggesting that the hurricane-ravaged city would be majority black again because "it's the way God wants it to be."

"If I'm the mayor of New Orleans, I want everybody to come back," said Obama, the Senate's only black member.

The first lady headed home after reaffirming the U.S. commitment to help Nigeria treat AIDS patients and stem the spread of HIV. She said she hoped that "one day an entire generation" will be free of the disease that has ravaged Africa.

The first lady highlighted the $163 million in U.S. assistance that will receive in 2006 to fight AIDS.

"We are all hopeful that one day an entire generation will be born free of HIV," Mrs. Bush said in a speech to the National Center for Women's Development in the Nigerian capital.

The crowd applauded with Mrs. Bush talked about attending Monday's inauguration of Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman president elected in Africa. She said Sirleaf is an example for women all over the world of what can be accomplished through hard work and a strong belief in education and democracy.

"The question we must answer now is 'how do we nurture the development of the next generation of women leaders in Africa and worldwide?'"' Mrs. Bush asked. "The answer begins with education."

Earlier, Mrs. Bush drove to the dusty outskirts of Abuja to visit a small AIDS clinic where a young woman told her of how drugs helped her escape death from the disease. Mrs. Bush visited St. Mary's Hospital, where she stood next to four cartons of anti-retroviral drugs — enough to treat 500 people over the next year. It is the first U.S.-backed shipment of the drugs St. Mary's has received through President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.