(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.
Everyone knows that most racists vote Republican and that many members of Congress would not have been elected unless they appealed to the racist elements in their districts.
The race problem in politics is that black people can be racist against white people all they want. Flip that script for a second and there's national uproar
Society has racist elements. When a Democrat in the Illinois legislature dismisses a Republican colleague as "a half" – ie half black, whose opinion doesn't matter – that is racism. When Harry Reid disparages Rubio for not being authentically hispanic, that is racism. I've heard so many racist comments from my own interactions with liberals, always in good humor because they can't ACTUALLY be racist, since they're liberal. There are at least as many racist elements in the Democratic Party, but it's half kept under wraps and half excused.
I'm 38. I have heard this my whole life. So in the last 20 years as an adult...minorities have not climbed out of poverty because of their culture...not because of the color of their skin.
The chinese were hated in the old west, slaves who built railroads...now they own businesses, a good portion of California, and never complain about the past.
What is YOUR excuse for the last 20 years? What is your excuse going to be for the next 20 years? I would imagine more of the same. Always someone else's fault.
You are poor because you are lazy and your family culture is weak.
wow that was hard to know , anyone knows when 1% of your vote is black and maybe 2% spanish , it might just be a bot racist and when some members use to be part of the kkk it might just be a bit racists. when your party has pictures of obama as monkey you might just be a bit racist.
The GOP has racist elements, what a surprise! It is just one of the many reasons I left the Republican Party.
People who realize that prosperity is more based on innate ability than society gives credit for will more likely vote GOP. Racist is a dumb word because it has given a negative to a big portion of the science behind human prosperity. It's not all nurture.
Racism will always be alive but it's ability to thrive has dissipated just like the allure of the GOP.
Of course there are racist elements in the GOP. I can't believe this is even news. Just ask yourself this: would a white President ever have to face questions about where he was born? Face it,. racism is never going to go away.
No, LH, but it does make you a tool, spreading the current GOP propaganda about "handouts"... I've known many many of the upper crust who received way bigger dollar amounts in corporate welfare and tax schemes and evasions, than any small time welfare recipient.
Sue , Jeremiah Wright is not an ELECTED official
So just to clarify, Nanci Pelosi heard some GOP lawmakers talking to "the Irish"? Hilarious. Where do these people come up with this garbage? And what level of stupidity does it require to believe such claims? Bwahaha!
No Duh! If you were racist which political party would you support?
As if I needed another reason not to vote for Israel.
"GOP base includes racist 'elements,' congressman charges"
Good God ya think
Of course there's racism in the Republican party. There's some in the Democratic party but most of it resides (hides) in the Republican Party. They choose not to do anything about it because without them, they'd (the Republicans) would never win any elections. Republicans might want to read the story "The Trojan Horse" to find out why that (the Southern strategy) in the long term is a party killer.
Racism will always be alive as long as people (white, black, red, yellow or any other color) keep mentioning it and hammering on it. It's time to see people as they really are: PEOPLE and get rid of the ethnicity profiling on government documents as well.
Jesus loves you all.
Racism has been misused so much that no one pays attention anymore.
I am happy to inform this congressman he is a strong contender for the understatement of the year award.
Nominees need not be present to win.
Obamacare = fail.
Income inequality = fail.
War on women = fail.
What's left? Baseless racist claims to get out the minority vote.
If race-mongering is all the democrats have left in their bag of tricks to fool the voters, they're going to lose BIG come November!
wow a democrat says the GOP is racist everyone stop the presses this is big news....
Remember, the most visible sign of racism in DC is the Congressional Black Caucus–all are racist black democrats who are steeped in the art of playing the victim.
Denial will not take care of the problem. Racism in the GOP is a reality and they must address it sooner or later. Maybe then we can rescue the Republican Party I used to know.
Racists elements in the republican base? Really? What's next, a black president?