April 13th, 2014
01:07 PM ET
8 months ago

GOP base includes racist 'elements,' congressman charges

(CNN) - Over 50 years after Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, the issue of race is back in the political headlines, after comments from Attorney General Eric Holder and events marking the anniversary of the law’s passage renewed the dialogue over race relations in the 21st century.

Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that "not all" of his GOP colleagues are racist but "the Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism."

Israel’s comments came in response to a question from CNN's Candy Crowley about Holder’s remarks at a civil rights event last week. During a New York speech, Holder suggested congressional Republicans have treated him and President Barack Obama, as African-Americans, differently from others who have held their positions.

Later, responding to a question about Holder’s remarks, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that House Republicans were blocking action on immigration reform because of racial issues.

"I think race has something to do with the fact that they're not bringing up an immigration bill. I've heard them say to the Irish, if it were just you, this would be easy," the California Democrat said, referring to GOP lawmakers, during her weekly press conference last week.

Rep. Greg Walden, also appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," called Pelosi's comments "both wrong and unfortunate."

In Holder's speech to a progressive group, he strayed from prepared remarks to criticize the way he was treated by Congress, specifically in contentious House Judiciary Committee hearings where he sparred with Republican lawmakers over whether he was being sufficiently responsive to lawmakers’ requests in an ongoing federal gun probe.

Two years ago, Holder became the first sitting Cabinet member to be sanctioned for contempt of Congress. Since then, tensions between the nation's top law enforcement officer and House Republicans have flared over a number of issues.

"What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?" Holder asked at the event last week.

When asked about the attorney general’s comments, House Speaker John Boehner said last week, "There's no issue of race here." He insisted the Obama administration has not been forthcoming in responding to GOP questions on a number of ongoing investigations.

Walden reiterated that sentiment Sunday, arguing "Americans just want to know the truth" about controversies like the IRS alleged targeting of conservative groups and the 2011 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

"They want to know answers. And that's all we're trying to do," he said on CNN about Republican efforts pressing Holder for information.

In his speech last week, Holder did not specifically point to racism as the basis of his treatment by Congress, but he’s also not shied away from talking directly about the issue of race in the past. Holder recently stood by comments he made in 2009 that the United States is a “nation of cowards” on racial issues.

The White House remained relatively quiet about race during Obama’s first term. In the last year, however, the President has spoken out more on race and inequality.

Most recently, Obama praised former President Lyndon Johnson and the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act at the law’s 50th anniversary event last week in Austin, Texas.

The landmark measure, signed in 1964, made it illegal to discriminate based on race, outlawing for the first time segregation at lunch counters, on buses, and in other public spots. Obama lauded Johnson's push to end legal segregation as a factor in his own ascension to the White House.

CNN's Deirdre Walsh and Evan Perez contributed to this report.

Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.

soundoff (1,077 Responses)
  1. whimsicalmamapig

    when are white people going to flat out tell the grievance industry blacks and their followers that we do not really care about any of their whining and what is more we do not have a "white man's" sense of guilt about their short term of slavery in the western hemisphere.
    The ancestors of most white Europeans were sold into slavery for millennium by romans, Greeks, Arabs and Persians... Most of mankind was held in slavery in our species' history so just get over it and start getting with the capitalist program or leave for other parts of the globe if you find it so onerous to live here.

    April 13, 2014 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  2. Bob

    Entirely true. After the complete thrashing the GOP received in 2008, they were desperate. They opened their arms to every Birther, Bagger, and Bigot to fill their shrinking ranks. They basically said "It's okay to be racist, we'll back you as long as you vote Republican". Now the crazies run the party and have gridlocked Congress because the reasonable Republicans are shouted down or get voted out during the primaries.

    April 13, 2014 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  3. lerianis

    Something that anyone could have pointed out to the GOP years ago. Much of their anti-undocumented immigrant stuff is more rooted in the race of the people in question than their undocumented status.

    April 13, 2014 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  4. Enough is Enough

    Funny how progressives seem to be the only ones fixated on race...they seem to be the ones who bring it up constantly. Funny also how the NAACP appears to vote almost entirely for black candidates.....

    @LH – I agree. I am a registered republican but vote for whoever I believe will do the best job regardless of their race, sex or party affiliation.

    April 13, 2014 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  5. Indepman

    Democrats are now at rock bottom, when they have to resort to this retoric, thinking that it will help hold onto the black American voters is pure desperation.
    When they can't talk about what they have accomplished to help a group but rather sling false accusations saying the "others" would be worse you know the hollow past promises are catching up.

    April 13, 2014 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  6. Usgov3

    The white media has been ignoring blatant racist white republican behavior for years.

    April 13, 2014 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  7. nuclear mike

    And the DNC is not full of racists either???

    April 13, 2014 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  8. Sue Rarick is not smart

    Jeremiah Wright was not an elected Democrat. He was a reverend I know it is hard to make intelligent comments but you may want to try.

    April 13, 2014 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  9. Bryan

    I don't think should surprise anyone, I think most people understand there is an element of racism in most conservative circles.

    April 13, 2014 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  10. BlackThought

    The GOP is racist? In other news water is wet and the sky is blue.

    April 13, 2014 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  11. don in albuquerque

    I didn't want to say it was a confederate flag they were waving in front of the White House, because then that would make me a racist too. Right???? So much for third grade finger pointing and screaming "Well if I am, then what are you?"

    April 13, 2014 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  12. Joe

    I think both sides are right. There is certainly a racist element to the GOP, however I don't believe that Issa's investigations have been racially motivated. Politically motivated, perhaps, but Eric Holder has also done some things that warrant investigation.

    April 13, 2014 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    Repugs racist ? What a shock.

    April 13, 2014 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  14. Kg

    How can you tell it's election season? Dems making a big noise, playing the race and gender cards.
    This is 2014, but they want to keep us divided as though it was still 1814 so that we re-elect them.
    No, thanks. Not buying it.

    April 13, 2014 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  15. Kevin

    The GOP racist? Say it isn't so! Thank you for pointing that out Captain Obvious...

    April 13, 2014 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  16. Joan Smyth

    Ms. Pelois – which House members have said to the Irish that if this were just you, then immigration reform wouldn't be a problem? You need to name names, so those House members can defend themselves, but of course you don't name names, because the comment never happened. Race baiting by the democrats, once again.

    April 13, 2014 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  17. Zuzu

    When you're desperate, play the race card. Because, unfortunately, it's a strategy that often works. No one wants to be thought a racist.

    April 13, 2014 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  18. Indepman

    The Dems new talking points seems to be – Republicans war on women and racist – really, could the Dems possibly come up with a more despicable desperate attempt to avoid talking about real issues like – jobs, ACA, foreign policy, IRS, Bengazi, NSA.
    Race and gender baiting is so yesterday and so desperate.

    April 13, 2014 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  19. ems1008

    I'm sick of Nancy Pelosi.

    April 13, 2014 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  20. Joeseph Eclaire

    You'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to realize that.
    And they know their base was poison in the womb. And they bait them just enough. How else can they get a poor White person to vote for a political party that sold their futures down the drain.

    That's what deep seated racism and bigotry can do to some, even get them to vote against their own best interest.

    April 13, 2014 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  21. Marie MD

    I know of three ex republicans who are now 2 democrats and 1 independent.
    Good luck continuing to try to push your phony family values do as I say not as I do bible thumping nonsense. This includes we are fighting for our voting rights.

    April 13, 2014 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  22. Fred Jones

    I will never vote republican – they are Anti American Anti Freedom and Anti Democracy – the only thing they support are their billionaire buddies who want to own the planet and enslave workers.

    April 13, 2014 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  23. jarhead4life

    Democrats calling Republicans racist is like the kettle calling the pot black.

    April 13, 2014 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  24. Big Ben

    What took them so long to notice? I guess they don't live in the south!

    April 13, 2014 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  25. rla

    Progressives and democrats have managed to lie in a racial context so well they have kept the blacks on the voting plantation for decaes and made them believe they were being discriminated against no matter what they must be very good at their lie or the target audience has been brainwashed by the democrats and the black leaders.

    April 13, 2014 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
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