By Kim Geiger and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama weighed in Friday on a mounting controversy over radio provocateur Rush Limbaugh’s crude comments about Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke with a phone call expressing his support for Fluke.
Limbaugh has repeatedly called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” for her advocacy for birth control coverage.
Obama “wanted to express his disappointment that she has been the subject of inappropriate personal attacks, and thank her for exercising her rights as a citizen to speak out on an issue of public policy,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a Friday briefing. “It was a very good conversation.”
Fluke had attempted to testify last month at a congressional committee hearing on the Obama administration’s new rule requiring employers to offer health plans that include birth control coverage, but she was excluded from the panel. She testified instead at a mock hearing organized by Democratic lawmakers, in which she advocated for the new policy and said she had a friend who lost an ovary because of lack of contraceptive care.
Limbaugh blasted Fluke on his Wednesday show, saying she had argued that “she must be paid to have sex.”
“What does that make her?” he said. “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.”
Democrats seized on the comments. In an email touting the $1.1 million the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had raised in one week off its “War on Women” campaign, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the comments “vicious and inappropriate attacks.”
Limbaugh doubled down on the comments during his Thursday show.
“The reaction that they are having to what I said yesterday about Susan Fluke — or Sandra Fluke, whatever her name is — the Georgetown student who went before a congressional committee and said she’s having so much sex, she’s going broke buying contraceptives and wants us to buy them,” Limbaugh said. “I said, ‘Well, what would you call someone who wants us to pay for her to have sex? What would you call that woman? You’d call ’em a slut, a prostitute or whatever.’”
Carney said Obama felt the comments were “reprehensible, they were disappointing.”
“It is disappointing that those kinds of personal and crude attacks could be leveled against someone like this young law school student who was simply expressing her opinion on a matter of public policy, and doing so with a great deal of poise,” Carney said.
In an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Fluke said the phone call from the president “meant a lot.”
“He encouraged me and supported me and thanked me for speaking out about the concerns of American women, and what was really personal for me was that he said to tell my parents that they should be proud,” Fluke said.