SAN DIEGO — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Saturday that she regretted that President Barack Obama had abandoned his insistence that religious organizations offer free birth control for their employees.
The California Democrat spoke briefly with reporters at the party's state convention, one day after the president demanded that insurance companies provide birth control when religious organizations refuse. The White House has rejected any characterization that Obama had retreated under pressure.
"I regret the fact that the president felt he had to do it, but he had to do it and I think it can be lived with," Feinstein said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi expressed no regret when she discussed Obama's shift with reporters at the convention on Friday.
"I commended the president for his ongoing leadership, his commitment to women's health. I thank him for his leadership, in a very unifying way, to resolve this issue," Pelosi said.
Republicans pounced after the White House announced Jan. 20 that religious-affiliated employers, except houses of worship, had to cover birth control free of charge as preventive care for women. Those hospitals, schools and charities were given until August 2013 to comply.
In her remarks to several hundred delegates, Feinstein highlighted a woman's right to abortion as one of several Democratic priorities. Others were affordable health care, financial regulation, a social safety net for the poor, immigration reform and education funding.
Feinstein sounded a triumphant tone in her bid for a fourth full term this November. Her most prominent Republican opponent is Elizabeth Emken, a former IBM manager and longtime advocate for children with autism who lost a primary bid for Congress last year.
"The Republicans really couldn't find a candidate to run against me," Feinstein said to laughter and applause.
Mark Standriff, a spokesman for Emken, seized on that remark to criticize Feinstein for once having a campaign treasurer who is now accused of looting money from numerous candidates.
Kinde Durkee is charged with mail fraud in a federal case involving allegations that she siphoned $700,000 from the account of state Assemblyman Jose Solorio and targeted dozens of others. Feinstein estimated that she may have lost $5 million but has replenished her account with a loan from her personal fortune.
"It's not surprising that Senator Feinstein is already asleep at the wheel in this campaign. After all, she couldn't keep track of $5 million in campaign funds. How can she be expected to keep track of the people she's running against?" Standriff said.
He declined to comment on the birth-control controversy.
Feinstein's campaign reported last month that she raised nearly $950,000 in the final three months of 2011 as she worked to overcome the disappearance of the millions of dollars from her campaign coffers. In all, her campaign has about $6.6 million in the bank.
Standriff said did not know how much money had been raised by Emken, a resident of the San Francisco Bay area city of Danville who began campaigning only recently.
In her remarks to the convention, Feinstein praised Tuesday's federal appeals court ruling that California's voter-approved ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. She called the 1998 federal Defense of Marriage Act to ban gay marriage "diabolical" and vowed that she would work to overturn it.
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Feinstein also waded into presidential politics. She poked fun at Newt Gingrich's comment about putting a colony on the moon after saying a Republican president would reject many of her priorities, ranging from immigration reform to stem-cell research.
"But there would be a colony on the moon with the aim of making it the 51st state of the United States of America. What do you all think about that?" she said.
Mitt Romney has also ridiculed his rival for the GOP presidential nomination for his wish to colonize the moon.