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White House Women's Forum Could Capitalize on Gender Gap

White House Women's Forum Could Capitalize on Gender Gap

By Alexis Simendinger - April 6, 2012


President Obama is hosting a White House "forum on women and the economy" Friday, and aides are denying up and down that politics is afoot.

Planned two weeks ago and featuring panels about business, women’s education, the workplace, health care, and violence against women, the event is a chance for the president to deliver a speech directed at women -- and for the administration to tout its record on “women’s economic security . . . through all stages of life.” At least 10 female administration officials are scheduled to moderate.

“It’s about time,” groused one Democratic political analyst, who complained that Obama and his White House “have had a tin ear” when it comes to women, in part because he and a male-dominated inner circle talk the same talk and aren’t always listening. “There are not a lot of women there, and when there are women there, they leave quickly,” she said of the West Wing.

An example of a lost opportunity, she added, was devising an economic rescue plan around infrastructure and “shovel-ready” jobs -- employment few women covet -- while the expanding health care and service sectors of the economy created job openings women really needed. Policies aimed at road-building steamrolled over, say, nurses’ aide employment. “Obama’s jobs plan has been so male-oriented,” she said.

Friday’s kickoff economic panel, which Obama is to follow with public remarks, will feature the head of the Small Business Administration, Karen Mills (pictured), plus former Council of Economic Advisers member Cecilia Rouse, who returned to Princeton University after serving in the White House. The president’s national economic adviser, Gene Sperling, and CEO Joe Echevarria of auditing firm Deloitte LLP, round out the main panel, to be moderated by MSNBC personality and author Mika Brzezinski, who occasionally advises the White House and moderated its 2010 women’s entrepreneurship conference.

Friday’s event will stream live on the White House website, and is intended to draw a nationwide audience by offering viewers a chance to pose questions in the final 30 minutes both live and via an online form. The White House created Twitter hashtag #WomenEconForum to join the discussion.

Asked Thursday what -- beyond politics in an election year -- inspired a special White House conference directed at women, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said during his daily briefing that the question was silly. “These are important policy initiatives. That’s why we’re having the conference.”

Moments earlier, Carney let it be known that the president believed the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia should admit women for the first time in its nearly 80-year history. The club is in the news because there’s some good golf being played there this week, plus the its board is trying to figure out what-oh-what to do with Masters tournament sponsor IBM’s newest top executive, a woman, after admitting her three predecessors, all men.

Mitt Romney, campaigning in Pennsylvania, quickly concurred with the president, a rare meeting of the minds. “Certainly if I were a member, if I could run Augusta, which isn't likely to happen, of course I'd have women into Augusta,” he said.

Not far away in Philadelphia, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, head of the Democratic National Committee, rallied voters -- including a phalanx of women and men carrying signs that said, “Keep your Mitt(s) Off Birth Control.” Schultz’s speech and a tweet later in the day summarized weeks of poll-tested Democratic Party messaging to women: “The GOP has no love for our sisters,” she wrote.

At about the same time, Wasserman Schultz’s Republican National Committee opposite, Reince Priebus, made a leap from women to insects during a Bloomberg TV interview. Attempting to deflect charges of a GOP “war on women” -- raised against Romney and social conservative Rick Santorum during the primaries -- Priebus asserted that the media made it up. "If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars, and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars."

The Obama campaign, sensing a new way to crawl all over Romney, maintained that the caterpillar comparison “shows how little regard leading Republicans, including Mitt Romney, have for women’s health. We already know that Mitt Romney would ‘get rid of’ Planned Parenthood and supports the Blunt Amendment, which would give any employer the ability to deny their employees coverage for health care services like contraception because of their own personal beliefs,” deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said in a statement. “Does he stand with Reince Priebus -- the leader of the Republican Party -- when he compares the debate over vital health care services to a war on insects?”

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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