* Says campaign rhetoric over women has been
* Pushes for more equal pay legislation, calls for flexible
* Has strong support from women voters in battleground
By Laura MacInnis
WASHINGTON, April 6 President Barack Obama,
leading in the polls among women voters, said on Friday he wants
to help working women fight discrimination and juggle the
demands of motherhood but stopped short of making promises on
gender equality if he wins re-election.
At a White House event on women and the economy, Obama noted
"there has been a lot of talk about women and women's issues
lately," a nod to the emergence of contraceptive rights, working
women and all-male establishments as heated issues in his race
for re-election in November.
"But I do think that the conversation has been
oversimplified," Obama said. "Women are not some monolithic
bloc. Women are not an interest group. You shouldn't be treated
A USA Today/Gallup poll released this week showed Obama with
a strong edge over Republican Mitt Romney, his most likely rival
for the White House, among women voters in electoral
battleground states including New York, Ohio and Virginia.
Obama won 56 percent of women's votes in 2008, giving him
the edge he needed to win the election over Republican contender
His fellow Democrats have accused Republicans of waging a
"war on women," with proposed cuts to healthcare and the birth
control group Planned Parenthood. The White House, meanwhile,
has sought to cement Obama's support for women with moves such
as a policy requiring employers to give women free birth
Obama, who was raised by a single mother, said that for him
women's issues were not a passing concern.
"Women are over half this country and its workforce, not to
mention 80 percent of my household if you count my
mother-in-law," the father of two girls told the group. "Every
decision I make is about making sure they, and all our
daughters, and our sons, grow up in a country that gives them
the chance to be anything they set their minds to."
The president said he was pushing for legislation to equip
working women with more tools to fight pay discrimination, given
that women in the United States still earn 77 cents for every
dollar a man does for the same work, despite equal-pay
legislation he signed in 2009.
"When more women are bringing home the bacon, but bringing
home less of it than men who are doing the same work, that
weakens families, it weakens communities, it's tough on our
kids, it weakens our entire economy," he said.
White House officials said they were focused on encouraging
companies to give women more flexible working hours, including
telecommuting options, and other small steps to help mothers
care for their children while advancing their careers.
More ambitious plans, including increasing the length of
maternity and paternity leave in the United States, which is a
fraction of that afforded to parents in Europe, Canada and other
advanced economies, is not on the immediate agenda.
"Extending parental leave is really something that requires
Congress to act," a senior administration official said, saying
gr idlock o n Capitol Hill and a fractious relationship between
Republicans and the White House made such an agreement unlikely.
Obama has yet to outline much of his agenda for a second
term. As the campaign has gained momentum, he has focused on
blaming Republicans in an unpopular Congress for blocking key
initiatives and warned voters that Republicans would hurt the
middle class and repeal health and retirement programs.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the
president supported women's admission to the all-male Augusta
golf club, which is currently under pressure to allow in the
female chief executive of IBM. Romney then said he also
thought women should be allowed in.