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Michelle Obama's first reception in White House State Dining Room

January 29, 2009 | 11:00 am

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive at Sasha Obama's school in Bethesda, Md. on Jan. 29, 2009

She was wearing purple -- a purple suit, white pearls and pumps.

And as she hosted her first reception in the White House State Dining Room, First Lady Michelle Obama took her place behind a lectern, below a portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

Thank you for joining us today for this important event and welcome to the White House. Feel free, walk around, touch some stuff, just don't break anything.

The president's stylish wife -- whose clothes have been known to clog the websites of retailers selling them -- was hosting a reception for the high-powered group of lawmakers and officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had earlier gathered in the East Room to watch President Obama sign a bill expanding equal pay for equal work.

The bill was named for Lilly Ledbetter, now 70, the Goodyear Tire employee whose lawsuit for pay discrimination was rejected by the Supreme Court. Praising her dedication, Mrs. Obama said:

She knew unfairness when she saw it and was willing to do something about it because it was the right thing to do, plain and simple. In traveling across the country over the past two years, Lilly's story and the broader issue of equal pay was a concern voiced over and over and over again. It was a top and critical priority for women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, older women, younger women, women with disabilities and their families.

The complete text of the first lady's remarks are included on the jump; scroll down or click on the "Read more" line below.

At the reception after her remarks, some guests sat at small round tables with yellow orchid centerpieces and others mingled in the dining room and out into the hallway. The White House pool report notes that they sipped orange juice and cranberry juice and enjoyed a mix of pastries, including apricot coffee cake, cherry orange scones, apple muffins and a fruit mix that included mango, apple, Clementine oranges and pineapple.

The bill-signing ceremony and reception followed a visit by the Obamas to their daughter Sasha's class at Sidwell Friends Elementary School in Bethesda, Md. No word on what the president told the kids, except maybe to repeat his message from yesterday when he and his family were surprised that a brief snowstorm closed the schools here, and that Sasha was accustomed to going out for recess in that kind of weather.  "We’re going to have to try to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town,” he said.

For the record, the Obamas, who considered the visit to the school an unofficial piece of business, stopped at all the lights en route, according to the White House pool report.

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-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo: Jason Reed / Reuters

     Remarks by Michelle Obama and Lilly Ledbetter, Jan. 29, 2009

MRS. OBAMA:  So thank you for joining us today for this important event, and welcome to the White House.  (Applause.)  As I told guests, feel free, walk around, touch some stuff.  (Laughter.)  Just don't break anything.  (Laughter.)  It's what I try to tell my kids.  (Laughter.)   

I had the opportunity to meet Lilly during the campaign and to hear her story.  First of all, she is one of my favorite people in the whole wide world.  Anyone who meets Lilly can't help but be impressed by her commitment, her dedication, her focus.  She knew unfairness when she saw it, and was willing to do something about it because it was the right thing to do -- plain and simple.

In traveling across the country over the past two years, Lilly's story and the broader issue of equal pay was a concern voiced over and over and over again. It was a top and critical priority for women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds -- older women, younger women, women with disabilities, and their families. This legislation is an important step forward, particularly at a time when so many families are facing economic insecurity and instability. 

It's also one cornerstone of a broader commitment to address the needs of working women who are looking to us to not only ensure that they're treated fairly, but also to ensure that there are policies in place that help women and men balance their work and family obligations without putting their jobs or their economic stability at risk. 

And it is my honor to introduce this extraordinary woman whose hard work has brought us here today for this very special occasion, and who has been an inspiration to women and men all across this country. Ladies and gentlemen, Lilly Ledbetter.  (Applause.)

MRS. LEDBETTER:  Thank you.  And thank you, Mrs. Obama. I fell in love with those people campaigning with them.  I have to tell you that.  And that's not on my prepared speech -- (laughter) -- but I have to tell you I love she and the President.  And I just believe in them and their work so very much.

But thank you very much.  Words cannot begin to describe how honored and humbled I feel today.  When I filed my claim against Goodyear with the EEOC 10 years ago, never -- never -- did I imagine the path that it would lead me down.  I have spent the past two years since the Supreme Court's decision in my case fighting for equal pay for this day.  But to watch you sign a bill that bears my name, the bill that will help women and others fight pay discrimination in the workplace, is truly overwhelming.

Goodyear will never have to pay me what it cheated me out of.  In fact, I will never see a cent from my case.  But with the passage and President's signature today, I have an even richer reward.  (Applause.)

I know that my daughter and granddaughters, and your daughters and your granddaughters, will have a better deal.  That's what makes this fight worth fighting.  That's what made this fight one we had to win.  And now with this win we will make a big difference in the real world.

On behalf of all the women in this country who will once again be able to fight pay discrimination, thank you.  Thank you to all the senators and House members who fought for and supported this bill.  Thank you to the many organizations and broad coalition that worked tirelessly for its passage.  And thank you to the countless women around the country who rallied behind this legislation.  It would never have happened without you.

With this bill in place, we now can move forward to where we all hope to be -- improving the law, not just restoring it.  President Obama, I want him to know that we're very grateful for his support.  And you can count on my continued commitment to fighting to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act -- (applause) -- and to make sure that women have equal pay for equal work, because that's what this country is all about. And thank you very much.  (Applause.)   ###

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