President Obama and First Lady Obama on Monday afternoon hosted a White House reception in honor of Women's History Month, welcoming hundreds of guests to the East Room. The President used the festive occasion to announce that he's nominating Cathy Russell to be the State Department's Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues. (Above: The President and Mrs. Obama greeting guests on the ropeline)
The President and Mrs. Obama have hosted the reception annually since 2009, and they entered the East Room at 5:00 PM to thunderous applause and cheers. The President opened his remarks with praise for notable guests, who included Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers, equal pay activist Lilly Ledbetter; Abbe Raven, CEO of the A&E Networks; and WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist Tamika Catchings. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Girl Scouts' CEO Anna Maria Chávez, astronaut Sunita Williams, and professional bowler Kelly Kulick were also guests.
"Cathy is a longtime advocate for women, for justice, for fairness," President Obama said as he introduced his nominee. "We know that she's going to be powerful voice for women and girls around the world."
The Ambassador's post was created four years ago by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and her "sole job it is to make sure that women and girls are a central part of every aspect of our foreign policy, that their concerns are considered at the highest level of our diplomatic decision-making," President Obama explained. He hailed Clinton herself as "a tireless advocate for women."
Russell is currently Chief of Staff to Dr. Jill Biden, who was on hand for the announcement. (Above, Russell, center, with Biden and the President)
According to the President, Russel has been instrumental in Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden's Joining Forces initiative. Russel previously worked at the Justice Department during the Clinton Administration, and was an administrative assistant to Vice President Joe Biden during his Senate days. She is married to Tom Donilon, President Obama's National Security Adviser.
"I’m certain that Jill will miss Cathy, but I know she joins me in saying that we could not be prouder of Cathy’s hard work and her advocacy," President Obama said.
Guests stood and mingled or sat at small round tables covered with blue embroidered table clothes as the President spoke. The menu, from self-serve buffets, included bite-size steaks, crostini, mini salmon sliders, tea sandwiches, fruit tarts and bite-sized pieces of chocolate cake.
"I am used to being surrounded every day by talented, accomplished women, from all the meetings I have in the West Wing to the dinner table with Michelle, Malia and Sasha," the President said, to cheers.
"But I have to say, even for somebody who is accustomed to it, this is a pretty exceptional group that I’m looking around here."
The President spoke of the need to ensure that both daughters and sons across the nation are granted equivalent rights and opportunities.
"It is hard to believe that 100 years ago this month, thousands of women were marching right outside this house demanding one of our most fundamental rights: The right to vote, to have a say in our democracy," President Obama said.
"And today, a century later, its rooms are full of accomplished women who have overcome discrimination, shattered glass ceilings, and become outstanding role models for all of our sons and daughters."
The President got the biggest cheers of his speech when he noted that Congress recently reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, which he signed last week. Russell was instrumental in getting the legislation passed the first time, he said.
"That’s what everybody deserves in this country--the opportunity to make of their lives what they will, no matter who they are, what they look like, whether they are boys or girls, women or men," President Obama said.
He urged the guests to keep fighting for equality, and added that while "there is still more work to be done...we can make sure that every single door is open, every dream is within reach."
Amanda McMillan, a Mississippi mother of three, introduced the President before his remarks. McMillan was a guest in the First Lady's box at the President's State of the Union address this year, thanks to her experience as a victim of pay discrimination while working as a grocery clerk. (Above: McMillan with Mrs. Obama)
"I am just one person who said no," McMillan told the crowd as she introduced the President. She encouraged others to speak out, too.
On Tuesday, President Obama has a packed schedule, as he welcomes Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland to the White House for a belated St. Patrick's Day celebration. In the early evening, the President and and Mrs. Obama will host a reception before he departs at 8:00 PM for his trip to the Middle East.
*The transcript of the President's remarks.
*Photos by Pete Souza/White House