Robert De Niro apologizes for "first lady" joke at Obama fundraiser

Robert De Niro attends the "New Year's Eve" premiere at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Dec. 7, 2011, in New York City.
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

(CBS/AP) Robert De Niro said he meant no offense when he joked at a presidential fundraiser featuring Michelle Obama that America might not be ready for a white first lady.

Pictures: Robert De Niro

"My remarks, although spoken with satirical jest, were not meant to offend or embarrass anyone - especially the first lady," De Niro said in a statement.

The tough-talking actor was host of the re-election fundraiser Monday night in New York. He opened by listing the wives of Republicans running for president.

"Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney," De Niro 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?"

The joke drew criticism Tuesday from Newt Gingrich, who said the racial reference to the Republican candidates' wives was "inexcusable" and demanded an apology from President Barack Obama.

The White House referred questions to Obama's re-election campaign. Mrs. Obama's campaign spokeswoman Olivia Alair called the joke "inappropriate" but declined further comment.

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