President Barack Obama, who won re-election with majority support from women, singled out one of his female supporters for her brilliance and dedication.
“She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country,” the president said of California Attorney General Kamala Harris during a fundraiser yesterday in Atherton, California. “It’s true, come on.”
The crowd laughed, and the comments prompted a flurry of reaction on social media sites such as Twitter. Speaking to donors at the home of Levi Strauss heir John Goldman, Obama’s remarks about Harris’s appearance were preceded by praise for her qualifications.
“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 that she “is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years.”
Obama faced criticism for selecting men to lead the State, Treasury and Defense departments at the outset of his second term in January. Those choices have been balanced more recently by the nominations of women for three cabinet-level positions.
Last month, he appointed Sylvia Mathews Burwell of the Wal-Mart Foundation as director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, where she’s been an assistant administrator. In February, he announced his pick of Sally Jewell, chief executive officer at outdoor retailer Recreation Equipment Inc., as the next Interior secretary.
Harris, 48, worked on Obama’s re-election campaign and has been mentioned by Democratic Party officials as a possible nominee to the Supreme Court should a vacancy open. She’s been attorney general of the most populous U.S. state since 2011. Before that, she was elected to two terms as the district attorney in San Francisco.
Harris is the first woman to hold the job in California and is among eight female attorneys general in the nation.
“It was a bit cavalier of Obama, unprofessional and unbefitting of his high office and expensive threads, to turn the attorney generalship into a beauty pageant,” James Wolcott, a Vanity Fair contributing editor, wrote yesterday on the magazine’s website of the president’s comment.
Obama’s opponent in the 2012 presidential election, Republican Mitt Romney, drew ridicule from Democrats last year when he said during a debate that his staff brought him “binders full of women” when he was looking to fill top state jobs as governor of Massachusetts.
Republicans suggested yesterday that Obama benefits from a double standard. A Twitter account of the Republican National Committee sent out the message: “Not awkward and perfectly fine for him to say, right?”