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. Jay

    It's a election year, start throwing the race card. Funny, don't you all remember the old saying that the first to bring something up is the one who's guilty. Remember, democrats love to divide and conquor. Break everyone into groups and discriminate against each and everyone of them, but so deviously that they can get away with it.

    April 14, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  2. Marcus (from...?)

    'um – Except the KKK was started by Democrats. Oops.'

    And where are, TODAY, the men and women that are part of that infamous SDouthern 'tradition'?
    True, back in the first quarter of the XX Century the KKK almost managed to get nationwide (during what historians call the nadir of the ratial relationships in the USA), but its mostly a Southern thing ever since, isn't it?
    So, TODAY, not 150 years ago, where are these folks again?

    April 14, 2014 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  3. Gary

    Get ready folks... you are going to see more and more of the RACE card played by these wacko liberals and pushed by the liberal media. The Dems and the liberal media know that the only way they can win in Nov. is to get black and Hispanics to the polls by scaring them with this garbage

    April 14, 2014 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  4. shades

    Liberals whining race race again, boring

    April 14, 2014 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  5. Bill the Cat

    And the Democrat base isn't?? PLEASE!!!

    April 14, 2014 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  6. Malory Archer


    Yeah, right, says the Democrat whose Party voted NO on the Civil Rights Act, LOVED Sen. Byrd even when he was a leader in the KKK, and by the way, it was the Democrats who invented the KKK!


    Yeah, except with the exception of the late Al Gore, Sr., all those dems who voted "NO" switched to the repug party upon the passage of the Civil Rights act. As for Senator Byrd, he left the Klan in 1942, and spent the rest of his life commiserating on and attempting to atone for a poor decision he made in his youth.

    April 14, 2014 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  7. chris

    Democrats can not survive without the continuation of racism. They are equally as guilty as any GOP member being labled a racist.

    April 14, 2014 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  8. Jason

    I think Israel is wrong about the " Some part"

    April 14, 2014 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  9. betterdays

    This is a sad, unfortunate attempt to motivate Democrat voters.

    April 14, 2014 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  10. Pritch

    Lets see here, just because minorities vote for your party, does not mean that you embrace anything other than their vote. Keeping minorities poor is the mantra of the left. Also, the KKK was created and run almost entirely by rich white democrats. Know your facts here. I remember multiple pictures and representations or George Bush as a monkey. Does that make Liberals racist?

    April 14, 2014 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  11. Mk82LAHD

    I'm sure the black mob that beat white Steven Utash almost to death last week are all Republicans...

    April 14, 2014 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  12. smith 1

    racism is alive and well in the republican party, I have heard many republican friends talk about the immigration problem in a very racist way . Using all sorts of names to say these people re taking over. They also have definite ideas about blacks and other groups staying in their place. So you can't tell me that is not part of the republican party. I see and hear it on a daily bases from people around me.

    April 14, 2014 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  13. Pritch

    Robert Constant, you couldn't be more wrong. I know you want the KKK to be republican, but the facts throughout history do not support that. But hey, liberals don't let facts get in the way of their stories, so i wouldn't expect anything more of a liberal.

    April 14, 2014 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  14. Anonymous

    The Democratic divisive message is.....if you don't agree with the policies of President Obama or the ineffectiveness of Attorney General Holder...then you are a racist or another favorite label of theirs is an "extremist." Their approach is to try to "silence" any dissenting view by calling it Racist. The current liberal Democrats have become extremely intolerant!! How ironic.

    April 14, 2014 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  15. Pritch

    JJ's comment says it all. That character is the mouthpiece of the left. No wonder you cannot have an intelligent conversation with the left. They lack the one thing you need, intelligence.......

    April 14, 2014 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  16. Matt

    Are there ANY groups republicans have NOT offended besides straight white male Christians?

    April 14, 2014 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  17. Robert Constant

    Twenty five years ago in a small rural Republican village Northwest of New York City, I wia invited to join the KKK. At first I thought it was a joke. the guy couldn't be for real! He was.
    Las year visiting the Vicksburg, Mississippi Courthouse Museum. I noticed at the entrance a bronze plaque celebrating Thomas Dixon Jr. the author of "The Clansman." The Movie, "Birth of a Nation" which portrays the Klan as heroes rather than the lynch mob murderers they were was based on his book.
    Well into the 1920's and 30's the KKK lynched innocent Blacks all over the rural South. Chapters of the Klan existed throughout rural America. In Upstate New York and Long Island, Klan chapters had obvious associations with local Republican political leaders.
    Today, these associations are under cover and not so common but they have not gone away.
    Fanning the flames of these lingering hatreds and prejudices are thinly veiled radio talk shows, using code words such as "welfare cheat" and many others to reinforce racial hatred and discord for political reasons. Racial hatred is being used as the glue to bind to the Conservative Right people who consequently vote against their own economic interest.
    Not all Republicans are racist. Unfortunately, those who are not, are turning a blind eye to the elements in their party, the so "Southern Strategy" Republicans who regularly use racial hatred for their political gain.

    April 14, 2014 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  18. Right Said Fred

    If the GOP is so racist, would somebody start naming names. Right now, this is all smear and innuendo whereas examples on the Democratic (progressive) side abound.

    April 14, 2014 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  19. Anthony

    LH, what you said is not racist, but many racists will say what you said. That is the problem. Republicans say words that are neutral on the surface, but for racists they have different meanings. In short, they are code words. Some people think that saying the name of Dr. Martin Luther King in public will immunize them from charges of racism. Republicans talk about takers and people getting handouts from the government. For racists, they are code words for blacks and illegal immigrants. Most people have no idea that 70% of people on welfare are white.

    April 14, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  20. tonyl

    There is absolutely NO DOUBT that GOP has a big chuck of racists among them. That is why they will remain a minority party nationally. Their racists elements get most of their support in the south and they will continue to hold south.

    April 14, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  21. Ray

    I grew up in eorgia where everyone was a Democrat and believe me, I knew 1 or 2 that were racists and they weren't all white. This article is just typical drive by media bashing of Republicans. Par for the course

    April 14, 2014 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  22. lee

    Pot calling Kettle, there are other reasons to be against illegal aliens than race. Law breakers getting a pass when so many are trying to get here legally makes me sick. It isn't about color or nationality it is about doing the right thing. Please stop pulling out the race card for every little thing you do not like.

    April 14, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  23. rs


    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.
    Thanks for your racist statement.

    April 14, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  24. yoshimoto

    blah blah blah blah blah – well, how about how the Dems have an element of thievery with their members....blah, blah, blah, blah....kind of hard to keep playing this card when the US has elected a black president......give it up, we all need to move on if America is to advance in any way

    April 14, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  25. old warrior

    Unfortunately, the use of the word 'racism' is all too often being utilized as a tool to stifle debate. Labeling millions of Americans with such a horrible moniker is not only wrong, but frankly disappointing. As a life long Democrat I've always found our party to be one of thoughtful debate focused on finding common ground where none may be evident. My beloved party has now been taken over by neo Marxists who no longer wish to engage their fellow Americans in civil debate. This along with the mythical 'war on women' make me ashamed to be a democrat. We need to use our brains to gain the high ground....not hatred

    April 14, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
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