WASHINGTON - President Obama invoked the struggles of his grandmother, single mother, wife, and two young daughters yesterday in creating a White House panel to advise him on issues facing women and girls.
Obama, standing in front of prominent members of his administration and notable women, including athletes, signed an executive order creating an across-the-government council designed to help Cabinet agencies and departments collaborate on ways to make sure women were provided opportunities offered to men.
The president named senior adviser and close friend Valerie Jarrett - herself a single mother - to head the group, which would include Cabinet secretaries and other administration officials.
He said he signed the order to honor all the women who came before him, and said the fight for gender equality is far from over, citing pay disparities, domestic violence, and the relatively few women in Congress and in the executive offices of major companies.
"I think we need to take a hard look at where we're falling short, and who we're leaving out, and what that means for the prosperity and the vitality of our nation," said Obama, who as part of International Women's History Month also last week with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a new post of ambassador at large for women's issues around the world.
Biden said the 36-year law enforcement veteran, if confirmed by the Senate, will bring to the task a lifetime of experience working on drug policy.
"There's no one more qualified to take on this job than the chief," Biden told a White House audience that included other big-city police chiefs and advocates representing drug prevention and treatment organizations.
Kerlikowske, 59, said he looked forward to his new role and noted his professional and personal experience with the effects of drug abuse on young people and families. His stepson, Jeffrey, has an arrest record on drug charges.
The job as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy will no longer have Cabinet-level status, but administration officials said Kerlikowske "will have a seat at the table when important decisions are being made . . . and full access and a direct line to the president and vice president."
The White House said Obama had nominated Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, who served in Afghanistan twice, including an 18-month tour that ended in 2007, to be ambassador in Kabul, and Christopher Hill, a seasoned negotiator who led the US team at nuclear disarmament talks during the Bush administration, to be ambassador in Baghdad.
He also named Ivo Daalder, a former National Security Council official in the Clinton administration, to be ambassador to NATO, and Alexander Vershbow, a former ambassador to Russia and South Korea, to be assistant secretary of defense for international security.
The powerful grass-roots group, which was a key early supporter of President Obama, got its start in vehement opposition to the Iraq war. But now that Obama is president and has announced a withdrawal plan from Iraq, the group is turning to other legislative priorities.
Starting today, MSNBC reports, the group plans to run a national cable TV ad on Obama's healthcare overhaul plan.
The spot takes on insurance companies, which MoveOn says will oppose a public insurance plan because it would cost them money. Obama has not committed to such an option, though it is under consideration in Congress.
"You know what the insurance companies see when they look at you?" the announcer asks. "Money - which is why they're against the president's healthcare reform."
"Don't let the insurance companies get away with it," the announcer says, urging viewers to call their members of Congress to "put people before profits."
Correction: Because of a reporting error, this item misstated the origin of MoveOn.org. The grass-roots advocacy group started in 1998 to push for a censure of President Clinton and an end to impeachment proceedings over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.