By Jeff Mason
BURBANK, California (Reuters) - President Barack Obama suspended the levity during an interview with late-night TV talk show host Jay Leno on Wednesday to address a Republican Senate candidate's assertion that pregnancies resulting from rape are intended by God and to express confidence that Washington could soon address the looming "fiscal cliff."
"I don't know how these guys come up with these ideas. Let me make a very simple proposition: rape is rape. It is a crime," Obama said on NBC's "The Tonight Show."
"This is exactly why you don't want a bunch of politicians, mostly male, making decisions about women's healthcare."
Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's comments that pregnancies caused by rape are "something God intended to happen" echoed across the U.S. media and sent ripples through political circles ahead of the November 6 election.
The Obama campaign, which enjoys leads among women voters in many election battleground states, sought swiftly to connect Mourdock with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. This summer Romney had to distance himself from remarks by another Republican Senate candidate, Todd Akin of Missouri, about what he called "legitimate rape."
In an interview full of jokes about marriage, Halloween and other topics, the Democratic president made a few serious comments, mostly about the hottest topic of the election: the economy.
Asked about the so-called fiscal cliff - a combination of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes set to kick in early next year - Obama said he was confident that a solution could be found before the end of the year.
"Solving this is not that hard. It requires some tough choices," Obama said, adding that some programs had to be cut and tax rates should go up for people making more than $250,000 a year.
"I hope that we can get it done by the end of this year. It just requires some compromise, which shouldn't be a dirty word."
On the economic crisis gripping the European Union, Obama said countries have been "kind of muddling along" and "they didn't respond as quickly as they could."
The United States is working with those nations to make sure they have a credible plan to maintain the unity of Europe, he added.
In a lighter moment, Obama joked about real estate mogul and TV personality Donald Trump, who recently posted a video challenging Obama to release documents about his education.
Trump has persistently questioned whether Obama, a native of Hawaii, was actually born in the United States, and Obama played off Trump's theories about his origins.
"This all dates back to when we were growing up together in Kenya," Obama joked. "We had, you know, constant run-ins on the soccer field. He wasn't very good and resented it."
(Additional reporting and writing by Lisa Lambert in Washington; Editing by Christopher Wilson)