In unleashing his sharp words against a law student this week, talk show host Rush Limbaugh – who called the student a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating expanded access to birth control – sparked rebukes from President Obama, fellow Republicans and longtime sponsors of his talk show.
Obama entered the fray Friday when he called Sandra Fluke, a third-year Georgetown University law student, to express support after she drew Limbaugh’s ire when she testified in favor of the administration’s new rule requiring employers to offer health insurance plans that cover birth control.
Limbaugh said on his show that Fluke “wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”
Limbaugh stood by his statements Friday, even mocking Obama’s phone call, and noted that he had offered to “buy all of the women at Georgetown University as much aspirin to put between their knees as they want,” a revival of a comment made last month by wealthy Republican Foster Friess – a supporter of GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum who had suggested such a use of aspirin as a less-expensive form of birth control. Friess later apologized.
Democrats saw opportunity even as they expressed outrage. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called on House Republicans to disavow the statements and referenced the “vicious and inappropriate attacks” in an email soliciting signatures for a petition against “the Republican war on women.” Other groups launched fundraisers, asserting that Limbaugh’s opinion only emphasized the importance of recruiting and supporting Democratic women to run for Congress.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) kept quiet on the matter, but his spokesman said Boehner “obviously believes the use of those words was inappropriate, as is trying to raise money off the situation.”
Santorum said Friday that Limbaugh was being “absurd,” but dismissed him as an entertainer.
Meanwhile, at least two of Limbaugh’s sponsors, Sleep Train and Sleep Number, announced on Twitter that they had pulled their ads from his show. Sleep Train, a Sacramento-area mattress company, had advertised on the show for more than 25 years.
A spokesperson for Sleep Number said on Twitter that the company had decided to immediately pull its advertisements because Limbaugh’s statements “do not align with our values.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president called Fluke “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.”
The firestorm also has ignited a dispute between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, with each side blaming the other for allowing rhetoric on the debate over contraceptive insurance coverage to spiral out of control.
Democrats on the House Oversight Committee had called on Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Vista) to condemn Limbaugh’s comments. Issa responded Friday with a letter that called the comments “inappropriate” but said that “regrettable personal attacks…have come from individuals on both sides of the issue.”
Other Republicans voiced stronger repudiations.
“Rush Limbaugh’s comments are reprehensible,”Sen. Scott Brown(R-Mass.) wrote on Twitter. “He should apologize.”
California Republican Carly Fiorina said the statements were “insulting.”
“It’s incendiary, and most of all it’s a distraction,” the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard said in an interview with CBS News.
Reporters Chris Megerian in Los Angeles and Michael A. Memoli in Washington contributed to this report.