(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.
It's politically incorrect, but the hard fact is that good looks account for people's success. Men selected for promotion tend to have an advantage if they are tall, thin, and good looking over men who are short, stocky, and not so handsome. Same holds true for women, always has and always will. The ideal goal is to eliminate or reduce the impact of this type of judging, but most humans are hard-wired in their biases. When's the last time you saw an ugly woman on Fox News? The point is anything the president says or does will be used against him by someone. Maybe they'll stop whining about him playing golf now that they have something else to whine about.
I have no issue with what he said, what I do have an issue with is that if a Republican had said the same thing the left wing liberals we be having a field day whining about it.
Actually it was a very good call Mr.President, I concur.
0bama = a sorry president
I find it funny that considering how many horrid things this jerk has done this is what gets him criticism . F me in the b hole seriously. How all those promises of transparency in the government ow wait thats only transparency that Yo Mama approves. And how about that supposed president of peace oh yeah he meant a piece of this country and a piece of that country right. FYI I'm not a damn republican
I welcome everyone's righteous indignation the next time someone calls Obama or Paul Ryan handsome.
Lighten up people, gawd, he's right.
Kamala Harris is all those things and she is the president's friend. It is a bit like saying "isn't my brilliant sister beautiful too?" No harm no foul, the man has always behaved as a gentleman so I have no reason to think otherwise.
All white woman are beautiful... blond, brunette, fat or ugly I love white women... shhh. don't tell Hilary...
She's not offended. So why should anyone else be?
What do I think?.....I think if he were a Republican he would be asked to resign.....The left wing rag media will spin this into a nice little tale for their kin Liberals!
Ban all talking.
Taking PC to a new low... he meant it as a slightly humorous compliment... nothing more... let's move along folks.
As He usually is by the way. :-)
She is very attractive, but the President has a wife and this comment, given his public position, was disrespectful to Michelle. Apologize tonight Mr. President.
His actual words were, "I'd hit that."
I want to say something but, it is none of my business. If Mr. President felt that he had to say that then That's between him ,and God.
WOW!! Give the President some Kudos... It shows that he is still Human!!
OMG... "correctness" taken to an absurd extreme. For those who are "troubled" by the POTUS remark I would advise – GET OVER IT!
Oh my heck......what on earth ever happened to our freedom of speech? All this crazy "political correctness" has gone way too far. I am one who is totally disgusted with Obama and his course of action and I don't like him at all. However, I would back his right to say something like he did, whether it was a joke or not. It's so sad that a person cannot express an opinion, make a joke, and etc. without being scrutinized to the max. However, it is perfectly OK for others to use the vulgar f-bomb word all they want in publilc and offend 95% of listeners but a person can't make an innocent joke? Come on, people, get real and get a life. Don't take so much offense at innocent remarks like so many have done in the past 3-4 years when someone says something that might not sit right with one or two people! This is America and our freedom of speech is being trampled on when we have to be politically correct with every cotten-picking thing that comes out of our mouth! I'm sure someone will find offense at my remarks above and all I can say is "grow up"!!!!
It's not a big deal...
she's average looking at best. Obama was being nice.
I know our President has a propensity for apologizing when it’s not required but, know he’s stepped over the line. His comment was in fun and accurate.
Just a joke unless a Republican says it.
Obama gets reamed out when he tries to show some personality.....best policy for any elected official is to just not say anything about anybody. My Presidential memories only go back to Gerald Ford, all of them have been vilified for commentary about various individuals.