Kamala Harris 'compliment' that leaves Barack Obama eager to shake off sexism tag

President apologises for referring to attorney-general as 'good-looking'

Los Angeles

He may have thought it a throwaway remark, but President Barack Obama’s decision to call California’s top law enforcement officer “the best-looking attorney-general in the country” has instead proved to be the political equivalent of a boomerang.

His comments about Kamala Harris last week refuse to go away – on Friday he was forced to  apologise following allegations of sexism, and over the weekend the story was in the news again, only this time thanks to supporters claiming the furore was overblown. The President will surely be keen to get back to his desk this morning in a bid to move the debate on to something else.

Mr Obama made the comment at a Democratic fundraising lunch in Atherton, California, where he described Ms Harris as brilliant, dedicated and tough before drawing attention to her appearance.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that the following day Mr Obama had phoned Ms Harris, who campaigned on his behalf in 2008 and 2012, “to apologise for the distraction created by his comments”. The President “did not want in any way to diminish the attorney general’s professional accomplishments and her capabilities. He fully recognises the challenges women continue to face in the workplace and that they should not be judged based on appearance,” he said.

Much of the subsequent criticism came from Mr Obama’s side of the aisle. MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, a staunch supporter of the President, said the remark was “a mistake”. Joan Walsh, a liberal columnist for Salon, said her “stomach turned” at the comments. “I assume he thought he was just paying someone he admires a compliment,” Walsh wrote. “But most women in public life have a complex relationship with their appearance, whether they’re as attractive as Harris or not.” By contrast, Fox News found itself in the rare position of defending the President. Gretchen Carlson, host of Fox and Friends, dismissed the furore, saying: “I wish that we wouldn’t be so completely PC on this issue because it’s true, she’s attractive, so what?”

Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, Bill Richardson, a Democrat and former Governor of New Mexico, said: “Maybe I’m a Neanderthal, but I thought the President’s comment was harmless… political correctness has reached a point where it’s out of control.”

The incident was not the first time Mr Obama has been faulted for his attitude towards women. During his 2008 presidential campaign, he apologised after addressing a female reporter as “sweetie”. Yet he also has a history of congratulating male officials on their appearance. In a 2012 speech, he described Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar as “a good-looking guy”.

Ms Harris, meanwhile, accepted the President’s apology. Her spokesman, Gil Duran, said: “The Attorney General and the President have been friends for many years. They had a great conversation yesterday and she strongly supports him.” The San Jose Mercury News also unearthed a clip from 2009, in which Ms Harris praised Mr Obama’s appearance, saying, “he looks and he sounds like a million bucks”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor