By Justin Sink
A spokeswoman for first lady Michelle Obama said a racially tinged joke by actor Robert De Niro at a campaign fundraiser Monday night was “inappropriate,” after Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich demanded the White House apologize.
“We believe the joke was inappropriate,” spokeswoman Olivia Alair said in a statement.
The actor later on Tuesday released a statement saying he had not meant to offend anyone with his comment.
“My remarks, although spoken with satirical jest, were not meant to offend or embarrass anyone — especially the First Lady,” he said, according to reports.
“Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now, do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?” De Niro said, to laughter from the crowd. When someone in the audience yelled, “No!” De Niro continued, “Too soon, right?”
But Gingrich took offense during a campaign stop in Shreveport, La., according to CNN.
“I do want to say one thing, both on behalf of my wife and on behalf of Karen Santorum and on behalf of Ann Romney — I think that Robert De Niro’s wrong,” Gingrich said. “I think the country is ready for a new first lady, and he doesn’t have to describe it in racial terms.”
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Gingrich went on to demand that President Obama apologize for the comments.
“What De Niro said last night was inexcusable, and the president should apologize for him,” Gingrich said. “It was at an Obama fundraiser, it is exactly wrong, it divides the country. If people on the left want to talk about talk show hosts, then everybody in the country should hold the president accountable when someone at his event says something that is as utterly and terribly unacceptable as what Robert De Niro said.”
Gingrich was referring to outrage over comments made by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who referred to a Georgetown law student who testified in favor of an Obama administration rule requiring employers to provide free contraceptive access as a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Limbaugh later apologized, and Obama called the student to offer support.
— This story was updated at 6:12 p.m.