April 17, 2013 at 11:00 AM ET
President Obama willingly accepted criticism for calling California’s Kamala Harris the nation’s “best-looking attorney general,” describing the incident as “a useful teaching moment for me and for the country.”
During an exclusive interview with TODAY's Savannah Guthrie, Obama described the comment as part of an ongoing joke between two longtime friends, but said he understood how people could find the comment to be sexist.
The president later called Harris to apologize but said, “Kamala knew where I was coming from.”
However, he realized the need to be cautious about making such public observations, he told Guthrie.
“As the father of two daughters, I want to make sure that they're judged on the merits and not on their appearance,” the president said during a segment that aired Wednesday. "I've got no problem in people, I think, using what was intended as an innocuous comment to make this larger point that we want to make sure that women are judged based on the job they do and not how they look.”
Obama made the controversial comment earlier this month at a political fundraiser in San Francisco where he gave praise to Harris, along with several other Democratic leaders in the state.
“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,” the president said at the time. “She also happens to be, by far, the best-looking attorney general in the country.”
The line immediately stirred up criticism even from typically ardent Obama supporters, although some argued that the comment was an awkward but harmless compliment.