Robert De Niro Apologizes for First Lady Joke at Obama Fundraiser

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It looks like someone won't be invited to the White House any time soon. While hosting a benefit for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign in New York City on Monday night, Robert De Niro made a racial joke while introducing First Lady Michelle Obama. "Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney," the Oscar-winning actor began in front of an audience that included Beyonce, Whoopi Goldberg, and Harvey Weinstein. "Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?"

Almost immediately, White House aides scrambled to make it clear that De Niro's comment "was inappropriate," said the First Lady's Campaign Press Secretary, Olivia Alair. Realizing his gaffe, the 68-year-old also publicly vetoed his "joke." In a statement to E! News on Tuesday, De Niro apologized, saying, "My remarks, although spoken with satirical jest, were not meant to offend or embarrass anyone, especially the first lady."

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But the damage was already done. As expected, Obama's Republican rivals came out swinging in defense of their better halves — and for the "Meet the Fockers" star's racial remarks. "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," said Newt Gingrich from the campaign trail. "I think the country is ready for a new first lady, and he doesn't have to describe it in racial terms." As for Rick Santorum, he merely dismissed De Niro's joke as nonsense coming from a Hollywood actor "spouting off as they do. The idea of looking at politics through eyes of race should be over … I don't know where he thinks he's coming from."

[Related: Robert De Niro Talks About His Role in 'Being Flynn' (Watch)]

Gingrich, not satisfied with De Niro's apology and the First Lady's condemnation of the remark, is now also calling for the President himself to offer a mea culpa on behalf of the actor. "It was at an Obama fundraiser," added Gingrich. "It is exactly wrong, it divides the country."

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