Obama rekindles talk about boys club after comment about California attorney general


California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 5, 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

President Obama reopened the debate Thursday over whether his administration is too influenced by men after praising the looks of Kamala Harris, California’s attorney general and a possible future gubernatorial candidate.

“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 at a party fundraiser in Atherton, Calif., a wealthy suburb of San Francisco. “She also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general in the country.”

As the crowd laughed, Obama added, “It’s true! C’mon.”

Obama’s remarks during a fundraising trip to the Bay Area buzzed through Twitter and other social media, where reaction ranged from appalled to leave-the-guy-alone. He made the comment at a garden party fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in the home of Levi Strauss heir John Goldman and his wife, Marcia Goldman.

Since early in his first term, Obama has been accused of running a West Wing dominated by men, many of whom he has known for years.

President Obama is getting flack for a comment he made about California's Attorney General Kamala Harris, calling her the "best looking attorney general in the country."

Female staff members complained internally about the macho feel of the West Wing in his first term, and Obama reportedly took their concerns seriously.

In his book “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,” the writer Ron Suskind quoted former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn as saying the West Wing “would be in court for a hostile workplace.”

“Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women,” Dunn was quoted as saying.

She later said Obama, after being told of the women’s concerns, addressed them.

But Obama’s early selection of men to fill key Cabinet positions in his second-term administration revived the criticism.

Obama has since nominated several women to his Cabinet, and some of his female advisers say the portrayal of the White House as a place run by men is inaccurate given how many women occupy its senior ranks.

“When people say it’s a boys’ club, it’s a little insulting to the women who are actually playing very critical roles,” Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s senior and most influential advisers, said Wednesday at a“Women of Washington” event sponsored by The Atlantic, according to a report in the Washington Times.

“You may not see them on television as much, but that doesn’t mean you should underestimate the impact they have and the influence they have with the president,” Jarrett said.

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Scott Wilson is the chief White House correspondent for the Washington Post. Previously, he was the paper’s deputy Assistant Managing Editor/Foreign News after serving as a correspondent in Latin America and in the Middle East.
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