Obama: Support for working families "is not a partisan issue"

Updated at 2:51 p.m.

President Obama is hoping that the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families Monday will put pressure on Republicans to support several policies his administration has promoted to improve the lives of women and their families across America.

"We've got, unfortunately I think, a faction of one party that says no to everything. And maybe the summit can highlight that this is not a partisan issue. This is a middle class issue. This is an American issue," the president told CBS News' Norah O'Donnell when asked why a law granting the American people paid family leave can't pass Congress. Mr. Obama noted the U.S. is "unique among developed countries in not offering it."

He issued a presidential memorandum at the summit directing federal agencies to step up efforts to expand flexible workplace policies and report on best practices and any barriers to implementation. The memorandum will also "make clear" that federal workers can request a flexible work arrangement without fear of retaliation and will direct agencies to establish procedures for addressing those requests, the White House said.

In the interview with O'Donnell, Mr. Obama recalled his own childhood where his single mother and grandmother played a crucial role.

"Both of them were strong, hard-working women. But they experienced the glass ceiling. They dealt with childcare crises," he said. The same was true of his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, when he was off campaigning or out of town, he said.

"Now I've got two daughters. So I want to make sure that they're able to balance family life and the workplace...or at least, their choices will be better than some of the choices that exist before," he said. "The idea of this working summit is to really lift up conversations that every family all across America has every day."

The president acknowledged that some progress has been made and women have entered careers that would not have been open to them a generation ago, but that they are still too often burdened with the task of child rearing and making less money than men.

"Discrimination is still taking place. And so part of what we want to do is to lift up the possibilities of changes in federal policy. But we don't want to restrict it to just federal laws. We also want to show that companies on their own initiative will discover that it's good business sense for them to take advantage of -- or to offer workers -- more flexibility on the job," he said.

The White House is also publicizing its support for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for workers who are limited by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions and prohibit them from forcing pregnant employees to take paid or unpaid leave if an accommodation would allow them to work. The Labor Department will also release a new online map that outlines each states' policies for working families.

"Many women can't even get a paid day off to give birth. Now that's a pretty low bar. That we should be able to take care of," the president said later in the day when he spoke at the summit.

Other initiatives being highlighted at the summit include increasing access to affordable child care, working on ways to expand paid leave, closing the gender pay gap, expanding tax credits that support working families and encouraging private sector companies to offer better workplace environments for working families.

During his speech, Mr. Obama said issues affecting the time that parents can spend with their children shouldn't just be labeled "women's issues."

"At a time when women are nearly half of our workforce, among our most skilled workers, are the primary breadwinners in more families than ever before, anything that makes life harder for women makes life harder for families and makes life harder for children. When women succeed, America succeeds, so there's no such thing as a women's issue...There's a family issue, and an American issue," he said.

Noting that "men care about having high quality childcare" too, the president reflected on his own experiences taking care of his daughters when they were babies.

"I remember taking the night shift when Malia was born and Sasha was born and being up at 2 in the morning and changing diapers and burping them and and singing to them. And reading them stories and watching SportsCenter one in a while, which I thought was good for their development. It was. We want them to be well rounded," he joked.

He also told the friendly audience that "one of the perks of being president is that anybody will hand you their baby...I get this baby fix like two or three times a week."

Before the speech, Mr. Obama went to a Chipotle in Northwest Washington with several people participating in the summit, following a recent trend of more unplanned, informal outings around the city. He noted that it had been a while since he last had a burrito bowl, and "it was good."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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