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White House enters controversy over Limbaugh comments on Georgetown student

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March 2, 2012: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaks during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington. (AP)

President Obama injected himself Friday into the controversy over Rush Limbaugh's comments about a Georgetown University student who spoke to lawmakers about birth control, calling the 30-year-old woman to thank her for "exercising her right as a citizen to speak out." 

But Limbaugh stood his ground, using his nationally syndicated radio show to mock Obama's call and charge Democrats with trying to exploit the controversy to make up for "failure on their decades-long abortion push." 

"It just isn't the winning issue for them it used to be. ... If it were, this wouldn't be about contraception, this would be about abortion," Limbaugh said Friday. 

The president called the student, Sandra Fluke, on Friday afternoon to express his disappointment in the "personal attacks" against her, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

Limbaugh, on his radio show earlier this week, had called Fluke a "slut" following her comments in favor of mandatory contraceptive coverage. 

"The fact that our political discourse has become debased in many ways is bad enough. It is worse when it's directed at a private citizen who was simply expressing her views on a matter of public policy," Carney said. 

He said Obama called Fluke to express disappointment about the attacks and "thank her" for exercising her right to speak out. 

The phone call came as lawmakers across Capitol Hill were weighing in, and as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee incorporated Limbaugh's comments into its fundraising campaign. 

Limbaugh, on his show Friday, charged that Democrats were only elevating this issue because they're losing the argument on abortion. 

"Now what's happening here politically, with the elevation of contraception here to such prominence in the national debate ... to me, it is evidence that the Democrats, the left have encountered utter political and moral failure on their decades-long abortion push," Limbaugh said. 

Limbaugh also pointed out that Democrats had not spoken out about over-the-top comments made by other media personalities like Bill Maher, who tweeted that "Jesus just f----- Tim Tebow bad" during the Christmas Eve Broncos-Bills game and reportedly called Sarah Palin a "c---" last year. 

"So I ask Jay Carney," Limbaugh said. "Will President Obama now give back the 1-million-dollar donation that Bill Maher gave his Super PAC?"

House Speaker John Boehner's office earlier in the day scolded Limbaugh. Though Boehner opposes the mandate, spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement that "the speaker obviously believes the use of those words was inappropriate" -- in reference to Limbaugh's remarks. 

But Steel also said Boehner thought it was inappropriate to try to "raise money off the situation." 

Carney had no comment when asked at the press briefing about efforts by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to raise money off the issue. 

A day earlier, dozens of congressional Democrats had signed a letter to Boehner urging Republicans to condemn the language. 

"Mr. Limbaugh repeatedly used sexually charged, patently offensive, and obscene language to malign the character of this courageous young woman who has chosen to be the voice for many of her peers," Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., wrote in the letter signed by more than 75 other lawmakers, urging Republicans to condemn the "atrocious and hurtful words." 

Georgetown University's president, John J. DeGioia, also weighed in on Friday, issuing a lengthy statement expressing concern about the remarks directed at Fluke. 

"(Fluke) provided a model of civil discourse. This expression of conscience was in the tradition of the deepest values we share as a people. One need not agree with her substantive position to support her right to respectful free expression. 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," he said. 

Fluke also released a statement on Thursday saying: "No woman deserves to be disrespected in this manner." 

Fluke had spoken at a forum last week pulled together by Democrats -- it was a response to a hearing held by Republicans where witnesses bashed the administration's contraceptive coverage mandate. 

Fluke complained at the forum about how much she and other students pay for birth control because Georgetown, a Catholic university, won't cover it. 

Limbaugh later said on his show that the student was effectively arguing that the students "must be paid to have sex." 

"What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right. It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex, she can't afford the contraception," he said. 

Limbaugh, though, was not cowed by what he described as the left's "outright conniption fit." 

"Why go before a congressional committee and demand that all of us (pay)? Because they want to have sex any time. ... I mean, they're going broke having to buy contraception," he said.