(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.
In America an honest statement can get you in a lot of trouble.
So many people on the right are SO desperate to throw stones at this president, ANYTHING they can find to talk about they will. Sad really given that there are a HUGE host of REAL issues they could take the president to task on. Just goes to show how far off the rails US politics and gone. Rally, really sad that so many (intelligent) people are making hay out of this.
People need to ease up...from Canada.
Was she offended? No.
In that case, it's inappropriate for anyone else to be offended for her.
Sometimes a compliment is just a compliment. Some people need to lighten-up.
It was a joke and a compliment, ghesh! Don't you people talking down the president have any sense of just how ridiculous you sound?
We cant acknowledge women's beauty publicly then lets cancel miss USA and all the pageants.Better yet let all women wear burqas
If it was me, I'd be flattered.
Oh please! Kamala Harris is in a position of power on her own merits and she happens to be gorgeous!
Wow...an apology is necessary for calling a woman good looking? This country is doomed!
My personal opinion is that, in this age, it is inappropriate to evaluate someone's work performance by discussing their physical appearance.
I suppose if someone can find an example where the president describes a male official as "The best looking ..." then it would be a bit more balanced.
Oh God. It was nothing but a harmless comment. When did complimenting someone on their looks become news? Judging by most of the comments on here, these are nothing but a bunch insecure ugly white republicans who probably look like father time himself has been kicking there ass and they have nothing else to talk about. Get over it. Not Obamas fault that you are ugly on the inside and the outside.
They should just bone and get it over with......
Apparently nothing is happening in the world and our big issues have taken back seat, because it's more important for the media to focus on a compliment. I swear as a society we suk.
As if we need more evidence that Obama is an idiot.
I am liking Obama less and less every day. Guess he doesn't really think much of or care what the people who voted him into office again think of him since this is his term.
I am not a fan of the pres. but this is just PC garbage.
If I told one of my co-workers that she is the best looking employee I have, what do you think would happen?
I just can't believe with the large number of important issues in the world the focus is a compliment from the president that is being twisted and twisted around. It's like trying to make orange juice out of rock. There is nothing there but the media is enjoying the media made debacle.
Look at all the Obama Kool-Aid drinkers coming out to support the pig.
This is not news.
Really!!! It is most Unfortunate what we as a nation have become . A man cannot compliment a female; sad indeed. We killed Joe Camel and the Marlboro man. Now the attack is on chivalry. Pretty soon when we are done destroying our young American culture we can then take the attack to our civil liberties. Hopefully I have passed away by then.
...and I was offended when former President Clinton called TX Gov. a "good-looking rascal".
Grow up people. geez. what does it even matter. Why dont people stand up about real stuff. like starving families living on the streets, getting rid of people on death row, stopping the police action in North Korea.. oh wait! ..lol
...and I was offended when ex-Prez Clinton called TX Gov. a "good-looking rascal". Please, people, only compliment the ugly ones. They need the props...