(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.
BTW, CNN, studies shwo that Twitter and social media don't actually reflect what scientific poll results will show as the prevailing perceptions amongst the public. Places like the twitterverse and facebook are nothing more than small isolated playgrounds within a much larger context. Stop pretending they're a free source of answers to the question of "what's everyone thinking?" They're not indicative of that whatsoever.
The comment was wrong! The republican party did the same thing to Colbert Busch (D) running in SC recently. This is not a compliment! I do not care who is saying it; no one deserves a pass. An apology on both sides would be the right thing, but I will not hold my breath.
If he were conservative, it would've been chauvinistic. Where he's liberal, it was merely a compliment.
As a woman I often get annoyed at comments and general attitude that focus mainly on women's appearance but it seems to me that Obama was just alluding to her being a woman among men. It's a comment you often hear from men to point out that a woman is more pleasant to the eye from their standpoint that other men. I don't see much harm in that especially coming from a man who is surrounded by strong women and clearly has the highest respect for them.
I agree it's just a compliment. But I bet it wouldn't be seen as harmless if Bush had said it. Then the media would have reported on his "boorish" behavior. It'd be great if the media could try treat politicians equally regardless of party.
It's Obama so it was a compliment of course
Consider the source.
I agree with Tony in Maine. It's a compliment and no big deal. Just get on with your lives and not waste time on such trivia like I'm doing! I'm retired, so I have the time.
People are entitled to their own opinions. Some think it was disrespectful, others think it was a compliment.
Some think its okay to abort babies, some don't.
Some think its fine to own a gun, some do not.
Some think there's nothing wrong with a man becoming a woman and competing in a women's MMA fight and some do not.
Some think its perfectly fine for men to marry men and some do not.
See how that works?
That's why its impossible to make law anymore.
Give me a break! Harmless comment was just good conversation.
You know CNN, I'm going to pass on this earth shattering news. Again.
And, yeah - I know.
I had to click on the story to give it a really, really big thumbs down YAWN.
I wonder who the worst looking attorney general is?
"comments and general attitude that focus mainly on women's appearance "
Except here it was mentioned as an aside after the main focus of his comments being her highly capable, intelligent and beneficial contributions to her job and society.
AG Harris is BEAUTIFUL and an intellectual!! What's the problem, haters? And POTUS is handsome and brillant!!! What's does that make me????....
It's clearly a compliment. Who doesn't like to be told they look GOOD?
Oh I don't know...but women like Fair is Fair make it sound as if they'd just as soon sue you than accept a compliment for what it was...a compliment.
Pity how some women forget what it is like to be a woman.
If that ever happens to me just shoot me! Lol!
First you read "happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general", then a little further you read, "She's brilliant and she's dedicated, she's tough… She also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general," Hmm, why would they put that first bit in, oh right to bias the reader's emotions for impact. Don't let yourself be so easily manipulated.
Wow. People really need to lighten up and stick to real issues. Fact is, I can't think of too many Obama policies that I agree with, and didn't vote for him, but this is nothing. This is a compliment. If a women made the same comment about a man, the man would feel flattered and everybody would have a nice little chuckle. Yes, her experience and abilities are the only thing that counts, but I think people get that. There's plenty to criticize Obama about. This is certainly not one of them. I also don't care if he takes a vacation once in awhile.
Who cares? This is a non-issue...
Since the POTUS considers himself "eye candy".
Therefore looks are important!
I sure that's part of the reason he got where he is as well.
no problem with the compliment- if a republican had said this the streets would run red with blood as the war on women nitwits would be beating their chests
What would be the reaction of an openly gay president paying the same compliment to an attractive MALE Attorney General, I wonder...
The President paid a woman a compliment. He has also stated on different occasions someone was a strong man. It was a compliment. Now if Mrs. Harris has a problem with the statement she has a right. I don't believe she does because they are long time friends. If Michelle has a problem then the President is in trouble, and can expect a few nights on the couch, but I personally don't see that happening either. When did it become a crime to tell someone they look nice and why?
Is she an Indian lady from India. Name sounds India lady name...
And while I am at it, what the heck is the deal with Obama's taste?
To Christa Bennet YUK is right, thats the word that comes to mind after seeing you picture
If he were conservative, it would've been chauvinistic. Where he's liberal, it was merely a compliment.
A good looking, liberal president giving a woman a compliment is far better than a compliment from a conservative old, stale, pale male any day.