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. Paul duPont

    I'm not a Republican but I recall that it was Republican legislators that passed the Civil Rights laws, and Democrats were holding the protest signs and spitting on the children who were integrating the schools – both in the southern states and in South Boston. If you are going to rewrite history, at least wait until everyone who lived through it is dead.

    April 13, 2014 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  2. lobo62740

    The blacks are continuing to throw out diversions. If there is racism, get used to it. My concern is that Holder, Obama, Cummings etc are all criminals. You lie to the people then pretend you are our friends. Obama cannot stop lying. Holder tries to make everyting so complicated and is in contempt of court and thinks it's OK and Cummings–well he just likes to make a fool of himself. So it's not the racist's fault, it is really your fault that you have the USA not liking you. Stop being criminals. You may regain some respect again.

    April 13, 2014 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  3. rl

    Of course there is racism deeply embedded in the base of the gop..As Rep Israel said not all are racists, but their core is racism. I am old enough to remember very well the "Southern Strageity", put forth by the gop after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws.

    April 13, 2014 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  4. Realist

    Holder is a racist and a coward. Can't take the heat Eric? Resign. But cowards and racists don't do that, do they? With any criticism he pulls the race card and hides behind it. Pathetic.

    April 13, 2014 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  5. Chris Asking Question

    Doesn't the democratic party also contain racist elements? Like the NAACP?

    April 13, 2014 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  6. George T Hibs

    There goes liberals once again, don't agree with their view point? Then you must be racist, homophobic or any possess other disparaging trait for disagreeing. The fact is Southern Democrats have historically been among the most racist people in our country. The real fact is that republicans are no more racist than democrats, however the race card is always played as a trump card. It has become the price of disagreeing. The real truth is republicans do not dislike Obama or Holder because they are black, they dislike them for their imposition of liberal policies on the masses. Gay rights, core education requirements, changes to zero tolerance education policies, changes to mandatory drug sentences, and the list goes on and on. I realize that CNN and Sound Off do not have the guts to print this so read it before it is censored for failing to think like a liberal.

    April 13, 2014 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  7. charley

    What ? who would of thought ......

    April 13, 2014 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  8. TiredofBush

    The GOP in large part are racist, what is their reason other than race not to put the job bills in the house for an up/down vote.

    April 13, 2014 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  9. robert

    TK: there are racists of ALL colors, creeds, and political persuasions. Try to get over your racist, bigoted views towards white, Christian Republicans and remember that INDIVIDUALS are racists, not whole segments. Thanks.

    April 13, 2014 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  10. joshocom

    For any GOP members who are tempted to refute this, one has only to look at how many Republican offices have been embarrassed by being caught forwarding/emailing cartoons or commentary on Obama that portray him as a watermelon-chompin' 1900's caricature.

    Obama is repellent for many, many reasons. But, as usual, the Republican choices for President have been measurably worse. They are faster to start wars, more willing to lie publicly (where ARE those Death Squads, by the way?), and are even fonder of corporate welfare than Democrats.

    April 13, 2014 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  11. rmcbride2012

    I have lived in Central Oregon for over 50 years, in the district Congressman Walden comes from. I watch the Confederate flags flying here, with signs supporting Walden in their yards. Of course he is going to claim racism is not in the GOP.

    Not all, or even most, of the GOP is racist. However, there is a good sized minority of GOP members who are. I live with them here in Central Oregon.

    April 13, 2014 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  12. Fukowi

    And the Democratic Party is dominated by bigoted anti Catholics and anti Christians. The fist thing these socialists do when given unfettered power is shut down all forms of dissent and marginalize the practice of religion. Don't be fooled by these modern day lefties – they are fundamentally no different than their early 20th century forefathers who managed to destroy nations and millions of people.

    April 13, 2014 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  13. Artr

    Racism in the GOP? What a surprise!

    April 13, 2014 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  14. Don Boyd

    Yeah, and the extreme liberal left includes elements animated by a belief in Communism. So what?

    April 13, 2014 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  15. Steve

    Were going to get beat in elections. Our foreign policy is in shambles. Our signature bill is a joke...quick RACISM!!! Sexism!!! CLOWNISM!!! ISM ISM ISM!! Are we as Americans really this gullable?

    April 13, 2014 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  16. Sergio

    Here we go again, CNN pushing the race card for the Democrats.... pathetic, what a bunch of puppets. Democrats are racists for keeping Blacks and Latinos in poverty with their policies. Latinos, wake up, PLEASE, we have seen the screwed-up governments in our countries of origin, DON'T REPEAT the mistake of choosing politicians that don't give a darn about you, but only care about their careers and friends.

    April 13, 2014 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  17. uhhuh

    If the Republicans have racists among them don't forget the racist comments by Democrat Jeremiah Wright.


    Please, enlighten us. What laws did Jeremiah Wright enact?

    April 13, 2014 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  18. Semper Cogitatus

    Both parties have racist elements.

    April 13, 2014 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  19. matey

    Republicans do have their problems. They do not know who they are or what is their policy? They are a divided political party and are divided into different groups. There is the "old" Republican Party. There is The Tea Party that destroyed The Old the Republican Party. There are those who Support The House Speaker Bonehead. Then the leadership is split because There is Cruz who expects to blast off to be President. There is Sarah who can see Russia from her house. And there is the great budget maker. RYAN. He just wants to stop health care for those that cannot afford it, and take away benefits from Seniors. All Mr. Ryan wants is to buy Nuclear Weapons with the money he saved for The USA ,so he can do the most damage to those who bother The USA. Republicans are happy the USA has sent armed ships to the Black Sea. BUT: What would they say if Russia sent armed ships to The Gulf of Mexico? Remember Both Mr. Boener and Sarah Palin do not agree with Mr. Ryan's budget suggestion.
    Now The extreme right Wing Republicans want to replace Mr. Boener. There are Republicans switching to Independants. There is The Republican "Do Nothing" party who only vote against The President, and try to block any Legislation that he proposes to help the middle and lower income class.,Them there are The Republicans that do not want to tax the Rich, because those at the top of The Rich, contribute money to some of The different Republicans conflicting branches.
    Most of the Republicans have alienated the Minorities, women, Hispanics, lower and Middle Class, and The USA Seniors. This might benefit The Republicans, because those groups do not have a good voting attendance?. Their reasons for voting less could be economics, lack of education, not speak English,, mental abilities reduced, or too sick to do the physical voting?? Women are the exception because they are getting more educated than The Males?? Any ideas proposed by the Republicans are against the majority of USA citizens, They are just anti President Obama, and appear too concerned with their own confused and rejected ideas. Attention Houston: The Republican Party does have a few problems. Perhaps The Mayo Clinic can help them, and President Obama's legislation can help pay for treating their mental difficulties???To my future Republicans who wish to criticize me: These are just my opinions, not necessarily facts. I expect those who criticize me to say the same thing-PLEASE. It is a free USA, and I know you do support that belief.

    April 13, 2014 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  20. sfeadmin

    The GOP has become the party of racist human garbage... denial changes nothing!

    April 13, 2014 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  21. Jolat

    Desperation anyone? The only people with a hang up about obama's race are those who claim to support him. The only thing more ridiculous than the desperate democrats comments on race is the fact that CNN published it.

    April 13, 2014 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  22. ryan

    Rep. Steve Israel seems awfully blinded and ignorant. What he fails to realize is that if it wasn't for the Republicans Hitler would have won in Europe since the Democrats were against helping the Jews that were being annihilated at the Nazi Death camps. Just goes to show you how shorted sighted Democrats are and that they NEVER learn from the or their past.

    April 13, 2014 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  23. Borderless

    Let me just get this straight. The headline is that a Democrat is accusing Republicans of being racist? Did not see that coming.

    April 13, 2014 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  24. Bruce Eder

    I don't often agree with the attorney general, but on this matter he was correct - and it's not only an affliction of the Congress, nor is the affliction always obvious. Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York City for over five years before he ever spoke to the highest ranking African-American office-holder in the state, Controller Carl McCall, and that was only when McCall was arrested at a protest at police headquarters. Don't tell me that any other mayor ever went five years-plus without any contact with the state's chief financial officer, because you'd be lying.

    April 13, 2014 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  25. Turky

    Since the "Beer Summit", this POTUS has acted with more unabashed racism than anyone since Dread Scott was the "law of the land".
    His supporters as well demonstrate bigotry, hurling accusations of racism whenever someone disagrees.
    Remember the TEA party rally where it was alleged the group used racist taunts??
    Why wouldn't Rep Lewis take a lie detector test about his allegation, when it would have given $50K to the charity of his choice? He was lying about the accusation.
    This POTUS and his party are the one's being racist. Claiming all opposition is based on race and not on honest differences in viewpoints is what is reckless and damaging.
    Just as with his PERIOD shouted after his lies about keeping your doctor, or your plan... it is an attempt to stifle honest debate. Shut it down with accusations, or "absolute" declarations that turn out false.
    THAT is what is shameful. Not that Republicans are stating their viewpoints. But that Democrats are attempting to paint those differences of opinions as being based on race, to win arguments by intimidation, not the strength of their proposals.

    April 13, 2014 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
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