(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.
It's a very useful tactic - I've seen it used all my life. How do you prove you're not racist – give money? Marry another race? Vote for policies you don't believe in?
It is clear that if you are racist and you vote, you are going to vote for a republican..... sooooooo... It may be an element that the party needs to put some thought into.
"GOP base includes racist elements"
News?? Did ANYONE not know this?
The GOP has racist elements?
You don't say !!
If 2008 had turned out differently, the T party wouldn't exist. Hopefully, when we have a different President in 2016, they'll melt into the woodwork where they belong.
The race card is always played by the democrats. The irony is that it is they who stopped civil rights for blacks in the 60's including Al Gore Sr. Just old, warn out, tired rhetoric from the party with no other solution than raise taxes and spend more money... government solves everything. Snore!
After reading most of your comments, I find it troubling most choose to dismiss the fact that racism is a significant part of our politics. The article is not about whether you like Holder or Obama, it's about how normal attitudes, agreements and protocol has changed simply by the fact of who is involved.
A religious freedom bill should work the same for Catholics and Muslims. The amount of respect and criticism the President receives should be the same for Bush or Obama. When you have one party that refuses to meet with the Presisent, solely so they can tell their constituents that "the President won't work with them" is the heart of what is wrong....and racism is a good solid question as the actions against this President are unprecedented.
Not exactly a revelation. The fact that Republicans refuse to even consider the possibility that race has played a role in the right's opposition to Obama makes it clear they know it has. It would be naive in the extreme to believe there are no racist elements in the party. It would deny human nature.
the civil rights act was passed thanks to REPUBLICANS not DEMS like AL GORE's father...the dems from the south (KKK Sen Bird and company)
ooooooooooooo nooooo say it ainT so the G.O.P.racist wow that news
We ALL know that!!!! Did you ever see a black or Latino teaparty CLOWN???? I haven't , then theirs there KOCH BROTHERS JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY CLOWNS!!!!!!
Its a shame Mr. Obama and Mr. Holder try to pit the country along racial lines. I thought we were beyond this nonsense; but it seems the 'grownups' won't let it go.
Obama is playing the race card. Holder is playing the race card. Pelosi is playing the stupid card, No wait, I do not think she is playing. People when they have their backs against the wall they will grasp for anything to get the votes. America stand up and get rid of this group of people. Do your research and do not let the media do it for you. Make your vote count this fall.
GOP = TP = KKK. All the same.
The GOP is racist to the core.
The Southern strategy is all about race.
Funny how racism and "the war on women" is alive and well in an election year.
Steve Israel is, like Harry Reid, an ugly partisan. He will stop at nothing in his quest to vilify Republicans, even if that means creating the worst dysfunction the nation has seen in two centuries. He has used the concept of race as an ugly tactic – – quite effective for a press corp anxious to help. The guy is unpleasant, unconsciously a liar and one of the worst examples of this Congress.
....the whites should suffer retaliatory racism a thousand fold until a few hundred years of harsh, unchecked abuse is revisited. It amazes me every day how the average white things that inches of minimum wage advancement can even come close to the extended period of abuse – even if it better serves the economy with increased spending volume.
Obama praises LBJ for what? Doesn't Obama know that LBJ, AL Gore Sr and Sen Bird all voted against anti-lynching laws?
You would think that if one were black you might have a problem with a guy who thought that lynching was a good thing
When the Civil Rights Act passed 50 years ago, the Democrats lost the South for a generation. 50 years later, it's pretty clear why there are so many vocal people who claim to not like Obama because of policy.
One can be for or against Obama politically. But Obama's skin color makes it so clear why the GOP is the party for those who liked the US more when it was okay to be racist as long as you didn't talk about it in public.
and what is so odd the dems dont?????
Are Democrats so desperate that they need to pull out the race card ever time they're challenged?
When people equate poverty and welfare with a race ,that's racism. There are no restrictions on poverty, people with little money often work much harder than they are given credit. No this argument about the lazy welfare class...is put forward by the fearful and ignorant. The very same people who begrudge a higher minimum wage who complain about unemployment insurance who cry about taxes,look for corporate breaks, lower capital gains and basically squeeze every cent they can from the least able to pay. They live behind gates to keep the working class a bay. They really live behind bars in fear of someone TAKING from them. Most people just want to make a decent living and be left alone. Racism exists and is apparent to those not blinded by fear.
Pelosi, Israel, and Holder are embarrassments to the entire HUMAN race. Their comments are disgusting and reflect nothing more than their own bigoted beliefs.
...and this just in: water is found to be wet.