April 13th, 2014
01:07 PM ET
7 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. shuman

    Any gross caricature of a large group of people is bigoted, and often racist. Steve Israel is clearly not immune to leveraging those sentiments for cheap political benefit and to deflect attention from real-world failures, incompetence, and misdirected priorities in his own party.

    April 14, 2014 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  2. vacavalier

    @rogue351 (and other like minded) If you think that the KKK, Aryan BH and other white power/hate/separatist groups vote GOP, you are way off-base and need to do some serious research on their doctrines.

    Those groups look at the U.S. government as an untrustworthy entity as a whole, regardless if it's the Dem or GOP party being the mouthpiece or representative.

    Their ideology has no place for democracy, freedom or established political processes.

    April 14, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  3. John

    This is why we can't have any meaningful debate in this country. Every time a hot button topic comes up, or democrats are worried about elections, they start claiming that republicans are racist in some way. This ramps up their African American base, who they desperately need to turn out in November...and no one stops to ask, "wait, why don't we debate the actual issues."

    April 14, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  4. Jack

    My question is: Why is the GOP not attracting other racial groups in large numbers other than older white men & women? If they indeed speak to all Americans. Or are they only speaking to some? Look at the crowds they draw. That's very telling. You see a Democratic rally and the crowd is pretty diverse. Not so the GOP. If they have a message for other groups they are not articulating it very well. It's not for lack of exposure. The message is out there and very loud. Maybe it's the wrong message.

    April 14, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  5. jaintn

    I love all these denials by GOP members. Good grief, are you people actually THAT clueless. You KNOW your party attracts racists and bigots. The majority of you want to marginalize the gay community to the point that you want to put laws in place so that they don't have the same freedoms you have. Your party wants to throw illegal immigrants back across the border no questions asked as if they aren't even human. Your party is STILL reeling because a half black man was elected POTUS twice so in response to that horror, your representatives in Congress decided they WILL NOT work with him on ANYTHING and will literally shut down the government to prove it. If I hear a racist, bigoted, sexist comment from a politician, 99.9% of the time it came from a GOP member. A large percentage are not only racists and bigots, you're actually trying to imbed Christianity into our laws like some backwater Muslim country. I guess the only thing the comments/denials on this thread prove is that in addition to everything else, the GOP has cornered the market on hypocrites.

    April 14, 2014 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  6. Open2most

    Wow – from calling for Hope and Change to calling others Bigots and Greedy. The Great Divider.

    April 14, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  7. Ted

    The assumption that there are racist elements in the GOP and ignoring the rabid racists in the Democratic Party is disengenuous and what might be viewed as an outright lie. Racism lives on the lips of the Democratic Party and they don't want to find a cure for it any more than the Muslims in the Middle East want to find a real solution to the Palestinian issues that plague them.

    April 14, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  8. sly

    Conservative magazine Forbes study:

    The 10 highest educated states voted for President Obama. 9 of 10 lowest educated states voted for Mitt Romney.

    Racists are uneducated and ignorant, so is it no surprise to find that Republicans are racist. Some Democrats as well, but being higher educated, there are less.

    April 14, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  9. Chuck

    Democrats are scared to death they will lose in Nov, they should be

    April 14, 2014 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  10. ripper

    Ah The dem party has and always was a racist party. was for slavery ; Dr M King was part of the conservative party. Not Democrats but they rebranded themselves after 60s trying to show they were not racist and others are. but the quote speak for themselves.. especially Clinton, and Reid

    A few years ago, (Barack Obama) would have been getting us coffee." - Bill Clinton to Ted Kennedy

    "(Harry Reid) was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama - a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." - Harry Reid's comments reported by Mark Halperin

    “You cannot go to a 7-11 or Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian Accent.” - Joe Biden

    I do not think it is an exaggeration at all to say to my friend from West Virginia [Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a former Ku Klux Klan recruiter] that he would have been a great senator at any moment. . . . He would have been right during the great conflict of civil war in this nation." - Former Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd (D.,Conn.)

    "Tainting the tea party movement with the charge of racism is proving to be an effective strategy for Democrats. There is no evidence that tea party adherents are any more racist than other Republicans, and indeed many other Americans. But getting them to spend their time purging their ranks and having candidates distance themselves should help Democrats win in November. Having one’s opponent rebut charges of racism is far better than discussing joblessness." - Mary Frances Berry, former Chairwoman, US Commission on Civil Rights

    "(Obama’s) a nice person, he’s very articulate this is what’s been used against him, but he couldn’t sell watermelons if it, you gave him the state troopers to flag down the traffic." - Dan Rather

    “White folks was in the caves while we [blacks] was building empires … We built pyramids before Donald Trump ever knew what architecture was … we taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it." - Al Sharpton

    "‘Hymies.’ ‘Hymietown.’" - Jesse Jackson’s description of New York City while on the 1984 presidential campaign trail.

    April 14, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  11. CosmicC

    "Americans just want to know the truth" – The GOP house has consistently engaged in witch hunts. They say the White House has not been "forthcoming". That's a bald-faced lie. The White House's responses have been consistent with past administrations of both parties. What is different here is that the GOP have decided what answer they want to a question and react based on that view, rather than acceptance of sworn testimony backed by official documentation and corroborated by people of their own party.

    April 14, 2014 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  12. Fred Philintstaun

    The Democrats are facing a tough election cycle, so they do what they always do. Play the race card. There are just as many racists (blacks that hate whites) in the Democrats as there are racists in the GOP. The Dems just use it to bring out their base when the feel they need it. THAT is true racism.

    April 14, 2014 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  13. TommyBlackflag

    This is not very complicated. The GOP is the party of Big Business and the ultra-wealthy. But in a democracy that's a problem because the other 98% of the people get to vote too. So what the GOP has had to do is find a way to pull other people into their camp, people who are not wealthy, to help them win elections. To accomplish this goal they have played on people's nationalist pride and cast themselves as the more patriotic party. The party that wants to preserve American values. Of course, they are anything but that, but they have a slew of TV and radio shows that convince the masses that this is true. And one of the best ways to divide poor and middle class people against each other is by fomenting racism and prejudice. We see it in almost everything the GOP does, from fighting gay marriage, to immigration apoplexy to voter ID requirements targeted at low-income ethic voters. They hated Obama long before he was President and they dismissed Holder on day one. They never have the courage to admit their own bigotry but its really not necessary anyway. It's right there for anyone with one eye open to see.

    April 14, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  14. pkrbkr

    How is it that the Tea Party only organized after the election of a black president? And why, oh, why, were some in their crowds picturing our President as a monkey, Hitler, etc? Sounds pretty racist to me!

    April 14, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  15. donte

    There may be a racial element to immigration reform, but it is not necessarily racist. What sense does it make to allow poor, uneducated, unskilled people from third world countries (largely hispanic and black) to enter the country only to then claim racism and demand special treatment. Until this country has an employment demand surplus, it doesn't make sense to open the doors to unskilled labor who then acquire minority status and live off tax-payer dollars while claiming to be the victims of racism.

    April 14, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  16. William Miller

    Does the GOP have racist elements? Well, about two months ago, my Republican neighbor, after a black family moved out of our neighborhood, said, "I hope this time we get a white family next door." Around six months ago, a man who moved here to S.C. from the mid-west, who had a Romney bumper-sticker on his car, told me that he liked living in our particular town here in S.C. because, "There aren't many blacks here." Last Presidential election day, as I was standing in line to vote, (I'm white), a white woman near the front of our line looked behind her, noticed all of us were white, and said, "Heck, we should just all have a Romney Party after we finish voting." Then a black couple showed up to vote, and she turned around and said no more on the subject. Yes, obviously there is a large chunk of racism in today's GOP. Anyone who believes otherwise is a fool or a liar.

    April 14, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  17. RC

    So the Dems have racist elements. Who knew??

    April 14, 2014 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  18. Donnie the Lion

    Every racist I have ever met has been a Republican. Just saying.

    April 14, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  19. bombastus

    The GOP morphed into a fundamentally racist party once LBJ got the civil rights law passed. That's when the GOP adopted its southern strategy and Nixon gave birth to the silent majority. The South quickly turned red and the basic underlying reason was racism. The GOP then cleverly used religion and other social issues to turn blues states in the midwest red. While most GOP congress men and women are probably not racist, their base is so they are forced to adopt these archaic positions in order to get reelected. One way around this is to stop redistricting and have open primaries where the top two vote getters, independent of party, go forward to the main election. This way rational republicans might stand a chance.

    April 14, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  20. Lee

    So everyone that is not white, male and religious in the republican party are racists?

    April 14, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  21. Try reading...

    Listen to right wing radio and its clear that there are some racist elements.

    April 14, 2014 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  22. Hawaian Punch

    Let's see...
    Obamacare = working.
    Income inequality = passed.
    War on women = Republicans still working on it.
    What's left? Finish cleaning up the mess left to us by..........YUP "BUSH" !!!!

    April 14, 2014 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  23. Ivan

    Hilarious to see the party of the white man cry about racism.

    April 14, 2014 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  24. Charles Hawkins

    Unsure of republican racism? Google Southern Strategy or Lee Atwater.

    April 14, 2014 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  25. Graeme from Ottawa

    Say it aint so!

    April 14, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
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