WASHINGTON — Actor Robert De Niro opened a fundraiser starring Michelle Obama by listing her Republican rivals and jokingly suggesting that America isn’t “ready for a white first lady.” Newt Gingrich was not amused, and the Obama campaign says the quip was inappropriate.
Gingrich on Tuesday called De Niro’s comment “inexcusable” and demanded an apology from President Barack Obama.
“I think that Robert De Niro’s wrong,” Gingrich said at a campaign stop in Shreveport, La. “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 said the president should be held accountable “when someone at his event says something as utterly and totally unacceptable as Robert De Niro said last night. And I call on the president to apologize for him.”
Obama didn’t apologize, but his campaign didn’t stand by the actor’s sense of humor, either.
“We believe the joke was inappropriate,” said Mrs. Obama’s campaign press secretary, Olivia Alair. She declined further comment.
De Niro and his wife, Grace Hightower, were the hosts of the New York fundraiser Monday night. The tough-talking star of “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Casino,” and “Meet the Parents” opened the evening’s remarks by listing the wives of Republicans running for president.
“Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney,” he said. “Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?”
The crowd of big-dollar donors waiting to hear from the nation’s first black first lady roared in approval, and De Niro finished: “Too soon, right?”
Publicist Stan Rosenfield said De Niro wouldn’t respond to the criticism. “It was obvious satire,” Rosenfield said in an email.