April 13th, 2014
01:07 PM ET
9 years 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."

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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. Kath

    OK, anyone who doesn't see overt racism in the republican ranks needs headgear for the blind. I'm just sayin' the president with a partial chimp face; the GOP in S. Carolina's caricatures, just read the tea party signs, and tell me about the blogs...Frankly I can't fault all republicans and won't. BUT the tea party is something 'other', their idea of responsible people and government became infected with intolerant religious zealots, overt racists, overt sexists stirred all together with a hint of anarchy.....There was at one time a reasonable, whether I agreed or not, republican party. now its a murky blend of shall we say 'dark' elements?

    April 13, 2014 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  2. Dave Lacks, USA

    GOP base includes racist elements?
    And Holder is NOT racist? OBAMA is NOT racist? Give me a break.
    Sen. Robert Byrd of WV being a GRAND DRAGON OF THE KKK was alright, because he was a DEMOCRAT, right?
    You people nauseate me.

    April 13, 2014 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  3. Pete

    Look, anyone who is not white and male is "different." It's not offensive as much as it is a dated notion which really needs to die. By being "different," women, minorities, and people of "different" religious beliefs and sexual orientations are subject to labels and viewed as being inferior. I do NOT agree with that sentiment. Still, for the GOP to appeal to its core constituents, it needs to perpetuate the dated philosophy.

    In spite of his ineptitude and poor decision making, GWB was not viewed as incompetent–nor was John Ashcroft. However, the GOP took aggressive efforts to play Obama and Holder as corrupt and incompetent. Holder is right, and rather than acknowledging the legitimacy of his comments, the GOP denies it and places the blame on him again.

    That denial, or self-denial, doesn't leave a path for improvement within the party. It's systematic willful blindness, and because the flaw within the party is not corrected, the party has issues with appealing to minorities and women. So, if the party disrespects the growing influence and side of minorities, then it won't receive their votes, and if it can't receive those votes, then it needs to enact policies geared towards removing their ability to vote (such as stringent voter ID laws and reducing the days for voting). These policies are not corrective measures–they reinforce the reality that the GOP cannot appeal to the majority of Americans, so democracy must be stymied.

    It's weak.

    April 13, 2014 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  4. DanaRi

    It's called "The Southern Strategy". Look it up. We used to have journalists who would provide historical context like this for articles. "Journalists". Look that up, too.

    April 13, 2014 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  5. gg

    Your cries of racism are like the boy who cried 'wolf'. You have used it too many times for us to take you seriously anymore.

    April 13, 2014 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  6. amber russel

    I think its safe to say 95% of conservatives are racists. Need proof? Well lets see, the KKK vote republican, only republicans wave around the confederate flag which is the symbol for racism, and they treat president Obama and attorney general holder disrespectfully because they are black. We had a president who lied to the entire country and to congress that there were weapons of mass destruction which led to the deaths of 6,000 US troops and 1 million Iraqi civilians yet he was never treated like Obama because he was white. Conservatives are racist and bigots which is why they will never win another election.

    April 13, 2014 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  7. Larry

    So then they try to defend themselves with – the democrats are racist first and more so, we don't treat them any worse than we have treated others, it is only your imagination, and so on and so on. I've heard more than enough and seen more than enough to know we still have a huge race problem in this country. After 8 years of Obama as president the hate from the GOP base has done little to disguise the racism at its core. Get over it and do what you need to do to help this country be better place for our children and grand-children. Think about the future we all want and put the racist, stupid behavior behind and move on to a better place.

    April 13, 2014 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  8. guest

    It's time to rally the troops for November... and difficult to do after what the Democrats have done to America.

    April 13, 2014 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  9. Catherine

    Really???? Isn't it a little hypocritical since it was the Dem's that filibustered the Civil Rights Act?

    April 13, 2014 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  10. realmike

    Hi Pot, I'm kettle. Nice to meet you.

    April 13, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  11. ItSoNlYmE

    Any other revelations for us, such as the fact the sun rises in the east?

    April 13, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  12. srcactus

    A.) We cannot and I do not condone racism.
    B.) We cannot and I do not condone elected officials inflammatory rhetoric in the guise of political hyperbole.
    We, as a nation, do not need this from any elected official!

    April 13, 2014 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  13. Stand Up

    Grand Old Party.....We treat our President of the United States with no respect. We are so stupid to realize that the world is watchng how we treat the Highest office in the USA. We don't even stand behind this president on issues that involve protecting our country. That's what makes us look weak. If the The weather is bad we blame the president. We also treated President Bush with no respect as well. I don't know if race has something to do with it, but you have to scatch your head and say what is going on. He was called a liar during his very first State of the Union address. Have you "ever" seen that before with any other president. "CRAZY" that's what I call it.Discrimination is the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on their actual or perceived membership in a certain group or category, "in a way that is worse than the way people are usually treated." Now ask yourself the question, has President Obama been treated the same as any other President. I used to be a republican up until the 2012 election. I switched from the GOP to become Independent. The GOP has became to far right with its views. They have catered to a few crazies in the party and changed. We need to get back to our grass roots.

    April 13, 2014 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  14. romoownssteveyoung

    Dark Poet
    Funny, name ONE racist comment from a Republican in office the last 10 years? Now I can name a KKK recruiter that was in office in 2010 for the Democrats!

    It is funny how when a DEMOCRAT doesn't get their way they ALWAYS play either the RACE or GAY card.

    Listen... the KKK was made by Democrats. As much as you twist the word "Southern Conservatives" around in the end it was Racially Conservatives that all belonged to the Democrat party. Throwing the word CONSERVATIVE doesn't make them republican.

    That is like saying," Oh well I'm conservative on gas so now I'm a republican!" That is exactly what Democrats have made the uneducated masses believe.


    Pretty easy, remember when that republican senator said that him and his father used to hire a bunch of ***backs? That was pretty racist.

    Or the republican senator that said he might get " jewed down on a price " pretty racist right there.

    I could go on, but i'll stop there.

    April 13, 2014 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  15. Chris Rainwater

    Of course, racism must be the culprit. I mean, clearly young black men born American today have no chance to stay in school, study hard, make good life decisions, and end up Attorney General, Member of Congress, or even the President. Whoever heard of a black man achieving that in the United States, right? It's impossible. So, when we read this week of the black thugs who sent their own child off the curb in front of a truck so that they could beat and rob the white driver – that's not racism. When black thugs going shooting at one another through the hallways of a motel, what do we call it? When a black man earlier this week breaks a white grandmother's nose at Walmart while trying to steal her purse – racism again? It is beyond absurd in 2014 America to scream racism. Scream irresponsible young black men, drugs, a culture in black America that promotes thugism – scream those things, and then I'll listen. Poor little Holder..."I get treated bad because I'm black." How DARE you, sir. You are the Attorney General of the United States, and you of all black men aside from the President deciding to play the race card is deplorable. As leaders of the black community, why don't both Obama and Holder start insisting on responsible behavior from black men as the only way to break the stereotypes and end the violence.

    April 13, 2014 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    Millions of people voted for Barack Obama solely because of his skin color... that's racism.

    April 13, 2014 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  17. Zeke

    Eric Holder and Steve Israel must have forgotten the rude and racist treatment of Attny Gen. Gonzales from the Dems. They must also have forgotten the treatment of Clarence Thomas when he was being confirmed for the Supreme Court. left wing liberals, if you are a person of color and a conservative, you are to be attacked with all force. Holder was asked reasonable questions about his department and he hides behind the race issue. Anyone who is head of the Justice Department and says he knew nothing about "Fast and Furious" is lying through his teeth.

    April 13, 2014 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  18. Jeff

    Guess what there are plenty of racist in the Democratic Party and a lot of people who earn a living off of race baiting.

    April 13, 2014 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  19. works4me

    "Americans just want to know the truth"
    The GOP wouldn't know the truth if it hit them in the face. And, they wouldn't care...

    April 13, 2014 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  20. metalhead65

    when all else fails play the race card. maybe if this administration were not so inept at doing their jobs they would not have the heat they face. but no dare to disagree and you are a racist. well if disagreeing with them means I am a racist then consider me a proud one!

    April 13, 2014 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  21. DP

    I didn't know he was passive aggressively playing the race card with those comments. I've been mocking him for being a narcissistic wimp.

    And Pelosi talking about someone commenting to the Irish. How can I do that? Do I hold a press conference?

    April 13, 2014 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  22. db

    Democrats its getting old playing the race card. What is more racist then planned parenthood whose founder Margret Sanger wanted nothing more to do then to abort all black babies and where are most planned parenthoods in the poorest of the poor. Sick and tired of these white old men and this goverment playing the race card!!!!!!!!!

    April 13, 2014 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  23. LJA

    @LH No that doesn't make you a racist. There certainly is a tremendous amount of bias in you. Notice you are only pointing at minorities when you talk about "taking a handout from government." Government assistance is used by all races. We're a couple weeks removed from a millionaire couple with a yacht taking public assistance. In the overall number of dollars spent Caucasians are still using more dollars than any other group. But you point your finger only at minorities in your post. It's always them...you never include the group you claim as your own.

    April 13, 2014 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  24. Thaddius

    In other news... water is slightly damp and fire is kinda warm.

    April 13, 2014 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  25. Frank

    Conservatives are racist? Just take a look at the comment boards.

    April 13, 2014 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
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