WASHINGTON — President Obama called the California attorney general late Thursday and apologized to her for saying that she was the ‘‘best-looking attorney general in the country.’’
Obama made the comment Thursday morning at a fund-raiser outside San Francisco. He praised Kamala Harris as being ‘‘brilliant,’’ adding, ‘‘she is dedicated and she is tough’’ before commenting on her looks. ‘‘She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country,’’ the president told the wealthy donors, who responded with surprise and applause.
There was a quick reaction on social media sites, with some people accusing Obama of being sexist and others defending his comment as harmless.
The president’s aides apparently knew the potential for political damage. Soon after Air Force One returned Obama from his West Coast fund-raising trip, he called Harris and apologized, according to Jay Carney, the White House press secretary.
“You know, they are old friends and good friends,’’ Carney said, ‘‘and he did not want in any way to diminish the attorney general’s professional accomplishments and her capabilities.’’
Carney repeatedly remarked on Harris’s abilities, calling her ‘‘a remarkably effective leader as attorney general’’ and ‘‘an excellent attorney general’’ who has ‘‘done great work.’’
The president, Carney said, ‘‘fully recognizes the challenge women continue to face in the workplace and that they should not be judged based on appearance.’’
A spokesman for Harris, Gil Duran, said in a statement Friday: ‘‘The attorney general and the president have been friends for many years. They had a great conversation yesterday, and she strongly supports him.’’
While Harris did not seem offended, others were. Robin Abcarian wrote on the website of The Los Angeles Times that the comment was ‘‘more wolfish than sexist,’’ and ‘‘may be a little problem he needs to work on.’’ Joan Walsh wrote on Salon: ‘‘Those of us who’ve fought to make sure that women are seen as more than ornamental — and that includes the president — should know better than to rely on flattering the looks of someone as formidable as Harris.”
Harris, 48, was elected to the statewide office in 2010 after serving two terms as district attorney of San Francisco. She is the first woman to hold the post. Her name has come up as a possible candidate for governor or even for the US Supreme Court if another seat is vacated during Obama’s second term. She has been an ally of the president’s, speaking at the Democratic National Convention that renominated him last year.
— NEW YORK TIMES
WASHINGTON — Two freshman Democratic senators from conservative states, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, have joined the growing chorus of lawmakers who say they support gay marriage.
Meanwhile, former Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, who as a senator voted for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, announced Friday that she now supports gay marriage.
The Republican known for moderate social views said she voted for a referendum that legalized gay marriage in Maine, saying views on the issue are evolving based largely on initiatives at the state level.
‘‘Though there remain strongly held views on both sides of the issue, we’ve seen a significant change in society’s attitude on this matter, and so it is only natural for our representative government to be responsive to those changes. That is why I supported the referendum in Maine last November permitting marriage between same-sex couples,’’ she told the Associated Press in a statement.
Snowe first announced her view on gay marriage in a wide-ranging CNN interview.
As for the Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts federal marriage benefits for gay couples, Snowe said that matter is now in the hands of the US Supreme Court and the court’s decision will determine the next step Congress takes.
Snowe’s successor, Angus King, an independent, also supports gay marriage.
Maine’s other senator, Republican Susan Collins, calls herself ‘‘a champion’’ of equal rights for gays and lesbians but doesn’t openly support gay marriage.
Collins has twice voted against amendments to the US Constitution that would have banned same-sex marriage by preempting state laws. Her spokesman didn’t respond Friday to a request of how she voted on the November gay marriage referendum in Maine.
In separate statements released minutes apart on Friday, Donnelly and Heitkamp said their views on the issue had evolved.
They joined a rapidly growing list of senators who support gay marriage and the list now includes 49 Democrats, two independents who caucus with Democrats, and two Republicans.
Donnelly and Heitkamp are the latest Democratic senators to announce their support for gay marriage.
On Thursday, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida became the 51st senator to announce support for gay marriage.
Two Republican senators, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rob Portman of Ohio, have announced their support for gay marriage.
— ASSOCIATED PRESS