April 13th, 2014
01:07 PM ET
6 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. mike

    The Tea party is all white. Enough said.

    April 13, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  2. nintex

    I live in a very tea-party area of Texas, surrounded by people who regularly refer to the President as "Hussein" and use the n-word when referring to African Americans. Although they've toned down the birther nonsense somewhat, I know there are some who still think President Obama was born in Africa – this is the mentality of some in the folks I have to deal with on a daily basis. Tell me they're not racist.

    April 13, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  3. Side Show Bob

    "Playing the race card is getting old "
    So is claiming all black people are on welfare, but that's not going to stop either.

    April 13, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  4. ED1

    Steve,

    Yes I have seen many blacks at the Tea Party rallies the press will not talk about that just trying to continue their divide tactics on the American people as Democrats do and there seem to be a lot of stupid people that will let them make their decisions for them instead of looking into the so called facts (lack of facts) they keep saying.

    Do your own research and don't let the press of any kind make up your mind for you.

    April 13, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  5. john wright

    Some democrats won't be happy until there's a race war!

    April 13, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  6. smartaz

    I'm glad the Democrats don't lower themselves to the point of using racism.

    April 13, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  7. Nick

    The dems always use hollow claims of racism and sexism to distract from their horrible idiotic policy ideas. Their party is devoid of integrity and ethics. What makes it funnier is that the biggest racists in Congress are democrats.

    April 13, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  8. Jeebus

    Voter ID laws are not to prevent minorities from voting, it's to prevent .... (hey John, what's it to prevent again?", oh, yeah).
    Voter ID law are to prevent democrats from winning elections.

    April 13, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  9. Sam

    No question that elements of the Republican Party are racist. What else is new?

    April 13, 2014 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  10. tarura

    A portion of Democratic party is definitely racist.

    Did you see a white person in Congressional BIack Caucus ?

    April 13, 2014 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  11. buckcameron

    This is an earthshaking revelation!! Stop the electornic presses!!

    April 13, 2014 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  12. John Demuth

    Steve...are you really saying there isn't racism generated by the conservative movement and the Republican party? Senator Israel was just telling the truth.

    April 13, 2014 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  13. Rachel

    The democrats and this president have cried racism so many times that no one listens to them anymore.

    April 13, 2014 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  14. ShameShameWeKnowYourName

    funny how racist white republicans accuse racist white democrats of being racist, and vice versa

    April 13, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  15. Otis

    The Democratic party IS the party of slavery, racism, KKK and lynchings of blacks. Fact and easy to verify.

    April 13, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  16. rjsenterp

    Like the Democrats don't also have people who are racist.

    April 13, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  17. John

    "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."

    Its not that he and Obama haven't answered their questions, its just that Boehner and his cronies are not getting the answers they want, and even though they have no evidence that meets a legal standard that the answers they have gotten are not the truth, they continue to insist that Obama and Holder are not being forthcoming with them. And its not even that it hasn't been thought by some in Congress that other Presidents or Attorney General weren't being forthcoming. It's that until these two, a political faction has not in the absence of evidence, continued to interrogate or harass a President or an Attorney General and used public resources to perpetuate their harassment or what is overtly - demagoguery.

    April 13, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  18. davemrncaa

    I am speechless...

    April 13, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  19. testerbill

    The GOP passes legislation to limit voting hours and require limited proof of ID, will not pass an immigration reform that might help Hispanics, Attacks the president as the "Messiah," want to change the educational system to limit access to education for the poor (private charter schools), will not consider an overhaul of the prison system and judicial sentencing that affects primarily minorities, wants to eliminate SNAP and Medicaid for the poor, etc. What other conclusions should one draw about the Republican party? And I voted GOP for 50 years.

    April 13, 2014 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  20. larry

    after reading some of these comments...the republican racist will always get a pass...if the shoe fits with these republican racist then they should wear it...and Gomert is one of them. He's the one that said the Obama administration is run by muslims...or is he just stupid.

    April 13, 2014 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  21. LWJR

    only a RACIST would make such a RACIST stmt about Republicans

    April 13, 2014 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  22. Tommy in Wilton

    Racist republicans? Who would have thunk it.....

    April 13, 2014 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  23. joe d.

    gotta love it , the republican party is over. the only thing they have is the house ,and thats the only thing they will ever have for a long time to come.

    April 13, 2014 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  24. Sasha

    Tell me something I don't know!

    April 13, 2014 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  25. esmiranda

    I don't know why anyone bothers pointing this out. After reading the comments from GOP supporters it's obvious they are okay with racism since they eagerly deny it. Racists support other racists. They are the non billionaires willing to support the tax breaks and subsidies we give to the wealthy, and corporate fat cats. Middle class and poor GOP supporters are happy to vote against their own interests, they are hardly the most intelligent of people.

    April 13, 2014 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
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