The Washington Post

In appeal to women, Obama says debate on issues is ‘oversimplified’

President Obama delivered a personal appeal Friday to female supporters about his commitment to advancing issues that matter to them, declaring that the national political debate over women has been “oversimplified.”

Speaking at a White House conference on women and the economy, Obama defended his administration’s record on fighting for equal pay for women and health-care coverage for contraception and mammograms.

And he drew a contrast with Republican approaches to women’s issues, emphasizing calls by some in the GOP, including Mitt Romney, to end funding for Planned Parenthood.

The president referred to the recent fight between the political parties over whether Republicans are waging a “war on women,” as Democrats have charged, and suggested that the dispute has done a disservice to women.

“Women are not some monolithic bloc. Women are not an interest group. You shouldn’t be treated that way,” Obama said to a crowd of mostly women in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Despite his attempt to remain above the fray, however, Obama's 20-minute address amounted to a rallying cry to consolidate support among female voters. Polls have shown the president opening a large lead over Romney among women in swing states, and the White House and Obama’s campaign have sought over the past several weeks to capi­tal­ize on the recent momentum.

The president’s rivals fought back Friday, with Republican National Committee co-chair Sharon Day ripping Obama over new jobs report figures that showed the economy adding 120,000 new jobs in March, well below the 200,000 that analysts had predicted.

“Across America, women are feeling the pain of the weak economy — in the job market and at the kitchen table,” Day said in a statement. “President Obama and his fellow Democrats love to say they stand for women, but women can no longer stand the Obama economy. Women deserve better, and in November we will hold him accountable.”

Day’s statement came a day after her co-chair, Reince Priebus, was lambasted by the Obama campaign after he brushed off suggestions that the GOP was waging war on women by suggesting that if “the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars, and mainstream media outlet[s] talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we have problems with caterpillars.”

In his remarks, Obama recited his personal history to show how closely his views are shaped by women, noting that he was raised by a single mother who struggled financially, and that he is married to a successful lawyer and is raising two young daughters.

“As a father, one of my highlights is asking my daughters about their days,” Obama said. “They drive me when I step into the Oval Office. Every decision I make is so that all our daughters and all our sons grow up in a country that gives them a chance to do anything they set their mind to.”

On policy, Obama stressed the high stakes involved with efforts from the GOP to overturn his landmark health-care law, saying that women are receiving access to contraception and mammograms at no extra cost because of the new coverage.

He also took a swipe at Capitol Hill, noting that fewer than 20 percent of the seats in Congress are occupied by women.

“Is it possible Congress would get more done if more women were in Congress?” Obama asked. “I think it’s fair to say that is almost guaranteed.”

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

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