(CNN) – California's attorney general received an apology call from President Barack Obama Thursday after he told a crowd of Democratic donors she was "by far the best-looking attorney general."
"The president did speak with Attorney General [Kamala] Harris last night after he came back from his trip," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told CNN's Brianna Keilar at Friday's briefing. "He called her to apologize for the distraction created by his comments."
The remark came during a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in the Bay Area. No video cameras were allowed inside.
"You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you'd want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake," Obama said, adding: "She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country."
The quick remark launched a thousand conversations about successful women and their looks. For some, Obama's observation brought to mind countless instances of women being judged for their appearance rather than their aptitude. But others saw something different – a harmless compliment – and wondered when it became sexist to tell a woman she's beautiful.
"They are old friends and good friends and he did not want in any way to diminish the attorney general's professional accomplishments and her capabilities, and I would note that he called her in those same comments brilliant, dedicated and tough. She is all those things," Carney continued, noting her work on mortgage settlements.
Obama "fully recognizes the challenges women continue to face in the workplace," Carney continued.
MORE: Getting to know Kamala Harris
Harris' communications director Gil Duran said in a statement, "The Attorney General and the President have been friends for many years. They had a great conversation yesterday and she strongly supports him."
The 48-year-old Harris was elected to her post in 2010, after serving as district attorney in San Francisco. She has a law degree from the University of California and went to college at Howard. Her tenure in law enforcement has included a tough stance on hate crimes, and the unusual prosecution of parents of truant children. Harris is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, and many wonder whether she's considering a bid for California governor in 2018.
Those attributes, some said, should have been on Obama's mind, not her looks.
Yuck, @BarackObama, inappropriate, disrespectful comment on Kamala Harris' appearance. Let's stick to what's important: how she does her job— Christa Bennett (@c_v_bennett) April 05, 2013
Yuck, @BarackObama, inappropriate, disrespectful comment on Kamala Harris' appearance. Let's stick to what's important: how she does her job
I wonder how many people think what the President said about Kamala Harris was inappropriate even though it was a compliment?!?— Your Favorite (@QuietRay) April 05, 2013
I wonder how many people think what the President said about Kamala Harris was inappropriate even though it was a compliment?!?
Obama's comment re: Kamala Harris' looks distracts from her accomplishments & deepens antipathy for those who look different. Inappropriate.— Kacey O'Kelly (@KaceyOKelly) April 04, 2013
Obama's comment re: Kamala Harris' looks distracts from her accomplishments & deepens antipathy for those who look different. Inappropriate.
"Women have a hard time being judged purely on their merits. Discussing their appearance in the context of evaluating their job performance makes it worse," Jonathan Chait wrote in New York Magazine.
"It's not a compliment," Chait continued. "And for a president who has become a cultural model for many of his supporters in so many other ways, the example he's setting here is disgraceful."
Others cast the remark as another example of Obama fostering a "boys club" attitude among his aides, who have been accused in the past of creating a bad work environment for women.
"It actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women," former Obama aide Anita Dunn said in a book on the Obama administration, "Confidence Men," by Ron Suskind.
That perception was fueled earlier this year as Obama made a fresh round of Cabinet appointments for his second term. The first names he picked – Chuck Hagel, John Kerry, John Brennan, and Jack Lew – were all white men.
But while many shook their heads at Obama's remark in California, many others were equally confused at the backlash.
It is a sad day for America when even the President is cowed by the P.C. Police.— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) April 05, 2013
It is a sad day for America when even the President is cowed by the P.C. Police.
POTUS & Kamala Harris are longtime friends. He paid her a compliment at a event. Now he's a predator? Give me a efffing break #morningjoe— Maxine Baptiste (@brownsugar7878) April 05, 2013
POTUS & Kamala Harris are longtime friends. He paid her a compliment at a event. Now he's a predator? Give me a efffing break #morningjoe
Sorry, but calling a woman beautiful is not disparaging. It's a compliment. bit.ly/Y1wwhW— Simon Says (@SayethSimon) April 05, 2013
Sorry, but calling a woman beautiful is not disparaging. It's a compliment. bit.ly/Y1wwhW
If @KamalaHarris was pleased that POTUS paid her a compliment, than I am pleased too. I trust another woman's ability to judge for herself.— Dale Freeman (@DaleF3) April 05, 2013
If @KamalaHarris was pleased that POTUS paid her a compliment, than I am pleased too. I trust another woman's ability to judge for herself.
The prevailing sentiment: when did complimenting a woman – particularly a friend - on her looks become sexist?
"Judging by some of the comments I've seen on Twitter you'd swear the president was guilty of luridly cat-calling a woman he doesn't know," Jonathan Capehart wrote in the Washington Post. "If I thought for one moment that's what was going on, you better believe I'd hammer him for it. But that's not the case here. Far from it. So lighten up, people."
A third set wondered about all those other attorneys general in the country, smarting from the knowledge the president might be sniffing at their looks.
While no one argued with Obama about Harris' status as the "best looking attorney general" Thursday, a colleague back home might take issue: Vice President Joe Biden's son Beau is Delaware's attorney general, and his name means "beautiful" in French.
What do you think? Was Obama's remark sexist? Or just a compliment? Sound off in the comments section below.
I'm an Obama supporter, and I was disappointed by the comment. It was not his brightest moment. I don't recall a president commenting on how rugged their VP looks, specifically because it detracts from the reason they are hired.
As far as the difference about how conservatives and liberals approach this situation, let's note that he genuinely apologized, both publicly and privately. I've lost count of the number of conservatives who say something far, far worse, and only show regret for "choice of words." I think of Limbaugh's long-winded self-defense in the Sandra Fluke controversy, where he only managed at the end of the statement to apologize for "insulting word choice," rather than apologizing for trying to destroy someone's reputation in a national radio show because they disagree.
I don't know. You kind of get to a certain level of professionalism where you don't have to tell the guy that it's a boneheaded move to comment on a woman's attractiveness while listing her accomplishments. I guess we have to send Mr. President to the SH workshops....
O'Bama should apologize becasue he was WRONG. Heck, Harris ain't even the best looking Democrat AG, that's Kane of PA. and even she ain't even as attracrtive as Bondi of FLORIDA!!!!
Must be a really slow news day! Maybe North Korea will change that!
Janet Reno is offended by those remarks.
The only person who should get an apology is the female herself if she felt degraded. They don't need to make a public announcement that the president apologized. The US is full of a bunch of sissies.
It was a Compliment!! Why make something out of Nothing?!! – @Marita.
The only reason it is newsworthy to me is because Obama said it. I honestly would know better than to say something like that, but I don't particularly care if that it was said. It is exactly that HE said it because he is a hypocrite of the highest order. Liberals are all about PC and villifying conservatives for being anti-woman even though that is utter nonesense. They hold up Obama as some perfect man, so evolved when it turns out he has far fewer women in positions of power than his predecessor and pays them less–all while taking them for granted. Liberal women and blacks are the most gullible 2 groups groups, no doubt about it. Obama has both wrapped so tight around his finger, he need never worry about their votes or even being held to account.
Now if he'd call her an ugly.....
He's a pig – pretty simple.
"he said she was tough, i think that's offensive ... means she's butch or something like that"
Nah...clearly he was referring to her chewability.
"She's brilliant and she's dedicated, she's tough… She also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general,"...This is the comment that's causing such an uproar and outrage??...I'm sorry, I just have to laugh and some of the other comments on this thread...just ridiculous..
How many times in the past 5 years have female journalists/presenters and the like, called Obama out for being "fit" and attractive, yet not once did this get pulled up. But, because its now a woman, its all wrong.
It was totally inappropiate. It was a professional setting and should be dealt with that way concentrating on her professional skills not his opinion on her looks. He should keep his personal opinions to himself or in a private setting. It would vice versa if it was a woman speaking pubicly at a microphone about a male colleague (i..e. "and he is so good looking"). I actually had this happen once being introduced in a large meeting as new employee and one the male executives announced and she is definitely good looking compared to her past employee. So innappropriate. I turned completely red and felt very awkward.
How does Ms. Harris feel about this? It's up to her, not us, to decide whether it was in any way a disparaging remark.
It's all about context. While compliments on appearance aren't a bad thing, the emphasis on looks, especially for women, often overshadows actual accomplishments and skills–In a professional setting, that can be problematic. It is best to leave comments like that, no matter their intention, in more casual settings.
(Also, I think both parties are being hilarious right now trying to cheap shot the other side.)
I love that all the GOP/Teatrolls think they're comments aren't doing more damage to their brand. Please proceed, ya little turds.
He first complimented her intelligence, etc., then threw in a friendly, personal remark that was also complimentary. Anyone who wants to make something negative about that needs to get a life of their own.
The hypocrisy of GOPers jumping on Obama for misogyny is thoroughly nauseating.
If the President called me brilliant, dedicated, tough & beautiful I'd be more than flattered. It's a compliment!
Get Real, prople! I can't stand Obama- but I gotta say- this is crazy. The guy compliments her by describing her as "brilliant" and "dedicated" and "tough" and then says she is the best looking- and everyone is all up in arms about that?!? Get a life!!
If a republican said the same. The war against women crusaders will jump in
For a brilliant academic and world leader, a moronic statement.
Let's all just pack on a 100 lbs and go out looking for a job. See how far that gets us in the real world.
Classy move to apologize...we all know our President didn't mean any disrespect. He leads us in the class department.