WASHINGTON – The White House fired back Friday at Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer's verbal slap at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, calling the California Democrat's caustic comments about Rice's family life "outrageous."
Boxer lit into Rice on Thursday with bitter diatribe during a heated line of questioning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee looking into Iraq policies. At one point, Boxer turned to the broad question of who pays the ultimate price for war. Rice has never married and has no children.
"Who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young," Boxer said. "You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families."
Rice told FOX News' Jim Angle that she was confused by Boxer's comments at first.
"I guess that means I don't have kids. Was that the purpose of that?" Rice said. "Well, at the time I just found it a bit confusing frankly. But in retrospect, gee, I thought single women had come further than that. That the only question is are you making good decisions because you have kids?"
White House spokesman Tony Snow on Friday called Boxer's comments "outrageous."
"I don't know if she was intentionally that tacky, but I do think it's outrageous. Here you got a professional woman, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Barbara Boxer is sort of throwing little jabs because Condi doesn't have children, as if that means that she doesn't understand the concerns of parents. Great leap backward for feminism," Snow told FOX News Talk's Brian and The Judge.
Boxer released a statement Friday to FOXNews.com through her spokeswoman, Natalie Ravitz, saying:
"I spoke the truth at the committee hearing, which is that neither Secretary Rice nor I have family members that will pay the price for this escalation. My point was to focus attention on our military families who continue to sacrifice because this Administration has not developed a political solution to the situation in Iraq."
For her part during the hearing Thursday, Rice kept her cool, responding to Boxer's comments after her opening statement.
"And let me just say, I fully understand the sacrifice that the American people are making, and especially the sacrifice that our soldiers are making, men and women in uniform. I visit them. I know what they're going through. I talk to their families. I see it," Rice said.
Boxer shot back: "Madam Secretary, please, I know you feel terrible about it. "That's not the point. I was making the case as to who pays the price for your decisions."
Asked Friday if Rice or the department had any reaction to Boxer's comments, State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus said, "We're not going to be beyond what she [Rice] said.
Boxer told Rice she didn't believe she was listening to outside perspectives on the war in Iraq.
"So from where I sit, Madam Secretary, you are not listening to the American people, you are not listening to the military, you are not listening to the bipartisan voices from the Senate, you are not listening to the Iraq Study Group," Boxer said.
Responding to questions about Boxer's comments in an e-mail conversation Friday with FOXNews.com, Ravitz said, "Sen. Boxer hoped that this argument might persuade Secretary Rice to see the devastating impact of this war on so many military families, and reverse course on this latest escalation of American involvement.”
Asked if Boxer meant to suggest that Rice could not fully understand the costs of war because Rice does not have a husband or children, or if Boxer regretted bringing up Rice's personal life in light of Snow's comments, Ravitz said that Boxer only was saying that the two are in the same position because neither will pay a personal price for the proposed escalation in Iraq.
Asked about Rice and Boxer's history of clashes — including during Rice's 2005 Senate confirmation hearing — Ravitz acknowledged, "Yes, the two have 'clashed' before, but no, it's not personal. They don't know each other personally. Sen. Boxer and Secretary Rice have serious disagreements over foreign policy and specifically this Administration's policy in Iraq," Ravitz wrote.
"I am not get into Mr. Snow's remarks. Senator Boxer spoke the truth at the Committee," Ravitz added.
In a 2005 Senate hearing for her confirmation to replace Colin Powell as secretary of state, Rice was put in the position of defending herself when Boxer suggested that the secretary's support for Bush and the war in Iraq "overwhelmed your respect for the truth."
"I have to say that I have never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything," Rice said.
Rice heads to the Middle East on Friday to seek support for a new U.S. strategy in Iraq.
One Vietnam War veteran — and recent American Legion national commander — who now has a son serving in Afghanistan said he was put off by Boxer's comments.
Thomas Bock, 59, of Aurora, Colo., said he heard about the exchange on local radio and thought, "Wow! What a terrible thing to say, that only those people that have family members in the military have a price to pay. This is our freedom, this is our county. And the sooner that we stand up and stand for our country, the sooner we'll be able to bring our troops home."
He said despite the fact that his son, helicopter pilot Army Capt. Adam Bock, is back in a combat zone, "I think she [Boxer] missed the whole point. ... You've got to focus on what the real issue is, and the real issue is the global war on terror, not a personal price or the personal sacrifice. This is a sacrifice for our country."
The Family Research Council, a group that promotes marriage and family, found Boxer's comments to be inexcusable and offensive, said Charmaine Yoest, a spokeswoman.
"I think it's offensive to the millions of Americans who don't have a direct relative serving overseas to suggest that somehow they're not connected to the men and women in our military who are putting their lives on the line," Yoest said.
FOXNews.com's Melissa Drosjack and Greg Simmons contributed to this report.