(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.
Obama......still a dewche.
Political correctness run amok. A compliment and nothing more.
Wow, what physcopathetic peoples comments ! It was a compliment, for Gods sake. Get a LIFE people.
Kamala Harries is smart and she is very pretty accept the facts it was compliment
They are old friends and good friends, so who really cares? Some people will make an issue out of anything!
Oh, and I'm not at all a fan of Nobama...but c'mon folks...really???
Why is this even news?
Obama is rightfully called out for this remark. His comments, as POTUS, should be limited to compliments about her intelligence and competence. Her looks are not only irrelevant, but they are highly subjective. I think, in this case, Obama went too far trying to be nice.
Larry in Houston
This whole debacle is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of
No. No it isn't Larry, unfortunately.
Think. Think back on what you've seen "debated" on this thread in regards to THIS POTUS and/or FLOTUS.
You don't have to go too far back either......
This feigned indignation is laughable.
It is so shameful that the world is continuously drifting toward sin. When did it become disgraceful to call a woman beautiful or even a man handsome. Because people live in sin, anything good sounds evil to them unless it is about them. Any man or woman who says it is disgraceful to call a woman beautiful is a disgrace to society. They are themselves very ugly and jealous. They are haters of fellow human beings. Did God not make women beautiful? What makes it wrong to say it? Isn't Kamala Harris beautiful? Obama is human, he is a man. He is real and so is Kamala.
You ugly people who have no one to call you pretty, stop nagging and barking. I am only mad that Obama apologized for nothing. Kamala, be happy, you are beautiful.
Lighten up, I'm not a big fan of the man, I'm sure he meant no disrespect. With all that is going on in this country this makes the news.....really!
It is a compliment, I have no problem with the man saying what he thinks. It also happens to be true.
No big deal.
leelanau... still a nobody.
So, if saying someone is good looking is now an insult, would it be a compliment to call someone ugly? This is stupid oversensitivity. Get over it.
It belittles the efforts of successful women when they are reduced to how they look to men.
The comments here show the mindset that keeps women from earning equally ro competing for high level positions for equal effort and skill level. That keeps kids in poverty when that women becomes as the majority do a single bread winner for the children. It should not be acceptable to act in that manner in a professional environment.
And to the chap who posits that women need feigned compliments in order to survive, trust me, to avoid stupid conversations and radical labels we tolerate your ignorance. In our minds we label you as a jerk whose mind resides below his belt and fits in a VERY small space.
My Country 'tis "a screwy place". Sweet land of "can't tell a girl she's pretty anymore". Of thee I sing.
Please note, only ugly people would be offended by the president's comments. Oh well....
Only fugly people have an issue with what he said.
@ Dominican M – 4 Obama thx 4 havin my back – you're correct – lol – they still never cease to amaze me !! lol
Seriously? This is what everyone is worried about? Ever hear of North Korea? Now there's an issue!
Those of you who are saying it's not a big deal and the woman should even be appreciative of the "compliment"...what exactly would you be saying if GW Bush had said that? Because I'm pretty sure I know what you'd say (or scream, rather!).
Indeed inappropriate. It is unacceptable to comment on looks in the work place one way or another. A compliment on physical beauty may be harmless but it also might not be. Who's to decide? and so its banned from my workplace.
Oh the irony, democrats create a politically correct nanny state, and it bites them back! Hahaha made my day!