Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh today mocked President Obama for supporting a Georgetown law student who testified to Congress that birth control should be covered by health insurance, drawing out the culture war over contraception that has consumed the political world for the past week.
Shortly before the student, Sandra Fluke, gave an interview on the cable network MSNBC today, Obama called her to tell her that her parents should be proud of her for speaking out for women.
After learning of the president’s phone call during his radio show today, a day after he chided Fluke over her sex life, Limbaugh made a kissing noise with his lips and mocked Obama.
“That is so compassionate. What a great guy,” Limbaugh said. “The president called her to make sure she’s OK. What is she, 30 years old? Thirty years old, student at Georgetown Law who admits to having so much sex she can’t afford it.”
In response to a question from ABC News’ Jake Tapper, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama called Fluke to “express his disappointment that she has been the subject of inappropriate personal attacks and to thank her for exercising her rights as a citizen to speak out on an issue of public policy.”
Limbaugh replied by arguing that Obama should return the $1 million donation that the comedian Bill Maher gave his super PAC.
“Will President Obama now give back the $1 million that Bill Maher just gave his super PAC?” Limbaugh said on his show. “You want to get some of the tapes that Bill Maher has called Sarah Palin? The ‘c’ word over and over again?”
Limbaugh continued to focus on Fluke today, saying she “hilariously” testified to Congress that “she’s having so much sex” that health insurance should cover her birth control.
“Not one person says, ‘Well, did you ever think about maybe backing off the amount of sex you have?'” Limbaugh said.
He added that Democrats “want to blame me as being the person they should fear.”
Limbaugh first thrust himself into the center of the contraception debate on Wednesday when he called Fluke a “slut” on his radio show for arguing to Congress that the expense for her birth control should be covered by her employer’s health care plan.
As the Senate voted down a Republican effort that would have allowed employers not to cover contraception in their health plans, Limbaugh enraged the left by saying that Fluke was “having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the pope.”
Thursday night, a bomb squad was called to Limbaugh’s house to investigate a suspicious package that was determined to contain nothing harmful. Limbaugh said on his show today that “it would send chills up your spine if I were to tell you what the package actually contained.”
In an interview with Tapper, Fluke expressed great appreciation for support she’s gotten across the country. At her Georgetown campus, many students sided with her.
“I think everybody on campus, or pretty much everybody I know, was pretty horrified by them,” Hannah Dee, a senior, said of Limbaugh’s comments.
On Friday, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia praised Fluke’s “civil discourse” in a letter to the school and at the same time took a shot at Limbaugh’s stance, writing, “And yet, some of those who disagreed with her position — including Rush Limbaugh and commentators throughout the blogosphere and in various other media channels — responded with behavior that can only be described as misogynistic, vitriolic, and a misrepresentation of the position of our student.”
Limbaugh, who mocked DeGioia’s statement repeatedly on his show, appears to have suffered immediate backlash, at least financially. Two national advertisers – Sleep Number and Quicken Loans – say they have “suspended” their advertising on his show, and a third, ProFlowers, says it is “reevaluating” its marketing plan.
Democrats see the controversy over contraception funding as a major opportunity to paint the Republican Party as bogged down fighting social battles that mainstream America has moved past.
Before the Senate debated the legislation that would have repealed President Obama’s contraception mandate requiring employers or their insurance companies to cover the cost of contraceptives, Rick Santorum had emerged in the GOP primary largely because of his positions against birth control, women in combat, gay marriage and abortion.
In a letter to supporters Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats had raised more than $1 million in an effort to preserve what they say are women’s rights to contraception coverage. The party is also circulating a petition asking supporters to sign a request asking House Republicans to condemn Limbaugh’s tirade against Fluke.
House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, declined to say whether Boehner thinks Limbaugh should apologize. “The speaker obviously believes the use of those words was inappropriate, as is trying to raise money off the situation,” Steel said.
Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner for the presidential nomination, also waded into the controversy when he told an Ohio reporter that he didn’t support the so-called Blunt amendment in the Senate, which would have undermined Obama’s proposed mandate, and then said shortly after that he did.
Romney’s reversal garnered widespread attention, despite his assertion in the same interview that he preferred not to talk about birth control.
“The idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, a husband and wife — I’m not going there,” he said in the interview.
“We’re going to hold him to these extreme positions that he’s staking out,” said a Democratic strategist who asked not to be named.
The furor was undoubtedly a pleasant event for Obama, who, even after drawing criticism last month for a rule that required religious groups to cover contraceptive services, has avoided the spotlight as the GOP and prominent conservative voices like Limbaugh focused on cultural matters rather than highlighting many Americans’ dissatisfaction about the state of the economy.
The willingness to move away from the economy conversation likely reflects the importance of key Southern states that will vote in the Republican primaries on “Super Tuesday” next week, where social issues remain important to conservative and religious voters.
The focus on divisive cultural issues is reminiscent of the political sparring over gay marriage during the 2004 presidential race that drove Republicans to the polls in many Southern states to oppose efforts to make it legal.
President Bush’s 2004 campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, who announced in 2010 that he is gay, said in an interview with Salon published today that he wished he “had spoken out against the effort” to enact an amendment banning gay marriage.
“As I’ve been involved in the fight for marriage equality, one of the things I’ve learned is how many people were harmed by the campaigns in which I was involved,” he said. “I apologize to them and tell them I am sorry. While there have been recent victories, this could still be a long struggle in which there will be setbacks, and I’ll do my part to be helpful.”
ABC News’s John Parkinson and Matthew Larotonda contributed reporting to this story.