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. tracy

    when I saw people leave their trailer parks to boycott Obama care – concepts so clearly above their understanding and the passion by which they boycotted , that said it all . I would say the GOP bases opposition to Obama – is about 30% based on race . Ted nugents comments clearly summarized the hatred so many feel towards the president . Nobody cared about the deficit or lives lost in a war that was not called for when Bush was president now all of a sudden people are soo concerned about the deficit . lmao

    April 13, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  2. HoleN1

    Not all Republicans are racist. not by a long shot. But all Racist vote Republican, by a long shot.

    April 13, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  3. OldAsDirt

    If race were the reason the immigration bill wasn't happening it would be a shame, but AG Holder plays a false card claiming it's racial just because one group is more inclined to break existing laws mostly due to proximity. Had the law been enforced since it was crafted, it might look repressive rather than ignored and dissed by an Executive Branch that trades constitutional duty for political gain.

    April 13, 2014 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  4. berniecat@outlook.com

    republicans , the gop of fascism and hate ,,, giving support to them makes you one too

    April 13, 2014 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  5. cbp

    Someone in Washington is finally saying what many people have been thinking. I know there will be some who will deny the existence of his racism. However, some much has been said over the last five year.

    Just the manner in which this President is treated says it all./ We can disagree with his ideas and thinking but the Office of President should command some respect and loyalty. Our people in Washington and those in state government and city government need to sit down and ask if they foster a respectful environment. From the Speaker of the House to everyone else in Congress I hope that you can change attitudes. This also includes the Secret Service whose members are not behaving very well.

    From his first day in office President Obama was told that the Republican leaders would n[tot do anything to help him to be reelected. How respectful is that! So our whole country has suffered because congress could not work together It is time for us to speak and to elect new house members and senator Neither man shows any leadership skills on the issue of human rights. So sad..

    April 13, 2014 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  6. Terence C

    Of course Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York says the GOP is racist, the election is coming and the democrats cannot run on successes.

    April 13, 2014 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  7. Ctrygrl

    There are "racist elements" in many groups throughout the country and it is certainly the case that many whom vehemently despise President Obama do so because of his color. There is no doubt that public discourse has become far more coarse and arrogant. From Rep. Issa declaring "we are looking for how high the coverup goes what the attorney general knew" not we are investigating to see if there is a coverup. Yes this declaration of guilt before investigation is indeed new. The republican house has made it abundantly clear they have 0 respect for the president or any of his cabinet officers but they have certainly been far more disrespectful of the attorney general and in many ways he has answered in kind.

    April 13, 2014 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  8. mentallect

    The GOP base are motivated by issues of race, and give nod and winks politicians who let racists comments slip out only to conveniently apologize for them after receiving recognition as one of their own by the GOP racist base.

    April 13, 2014 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  9. DelMarTerp

    What Holder and Israel are saying should not be a surprise to anyone who understands the true feelings of the majority of republicans. As history has noted, the last time that the Democratic party carried the south was prior to Lyndon Johnson's support for the Civil Rights Act. The good news is that the percentage of minorities is growing in this country and sooner than later the white supremacists will be outnumbered.

    April 13, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  10. Kongo

    Of course it's racist. Why did so many southern democrats switch parties after LBJ passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Certainly not all the GOP is racist but there are plenty within its ranks who are.

    April 13, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  11. Roger

    Eric Holder is doing what it seems that many minority men (not all) do he is accused of poor job performance and his response :Oh it because my race you are picking on me. So did Clinton, Oliver North any of those white public figures cry they were being picked on in Congress because of the color of their skin ? Holder is a poor choice for Attorney General and it is now showing by both comments and actions. He knows the ticket out of trouble is play the race card ..

    April 13, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  12. Who is racist?

    1. “You’re not a member of the Taliban, are you?” – Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense

    2. “I love this quote. It’s from Mahatma Gandhi. He ran a gas station down in St. Louis for a couple of years. Mr. Gandhi, do you still go to the gas station? A lot of wisdom comes out of that gas station” – Hillary Clinton, Former Secretary of State

    3. “In about 18 months from now, hopefully [state Sen. Vincent Sheheen] will have sent Nikki Haley back to wherever the hell she came from and this country can move forward.” – Former South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian

    4. “You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking!” – Joe Biden, Vice President

    5. “I mean you’ve got the first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and nice-looking guy.” – Joe Biden, Vice President

    6. “[Harry Reid] was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as a Obama — a ‘light-skinned’ African American with ‘no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.’” – Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, as quoted in the book Game Change

    April 13, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  13. reha

    The Democrats are also reverse discriminating racists. Anyone that doesn't agree with them is a racist and they use this to get people to back off.

    April 13, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    This country allows more than a million immigrants to come to this country legally every year. No body is opposing that. Every country has immigration laws that they expect people to follow and that is smart policy and not being racist. If the democrats dont get what they want then they start playing the racist card. No surprise here.

    April 13, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  15. Rcik

    And in other news, the sky is blue and fire is hot.

    April 13, 2014 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  16. James

    To grow as humans mankind has to let go of the notion of color, creed, religion and guns being their salvation we are all one and together possibly unstoppable. The ones who hold onto the vision of self will seek others out with similar vision until the two are no longer... we are not those people, we are the strong of heart and head and we will watch you destroy yourselves over and over for the same cause time after time – while the purveyors of wealth and power supply you with the weapons to do so. we watch, wait and live.

    April 13, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  17. yodel

    everyone already knows that!

    April 13, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  18. Kyuuji

    Racist elements? All I gotta say is Robert Byrd.

    April 13, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  19. Larry L

    If individuals from all of the most racist organizations in America were polled for their political affiliation the results wouldn't be surprising. Republicans own that voting base. True, all racial groups have racists representing them – but only the most delusional would deny the Republican's lock on the vast majority of that voting population. A photo of the early Tea Party rallies, before the RNC forced them to change (for publicity reasons) showed numerous racist signs and slogans. As an old white guy from a very red state, I get to hear the unfiltered dialogue. Racism is alive and well in the GOP!

    April 13, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  20. fmorius

    Unfortunately it is just another tactic of white society within the Democratic Party to believe that through publicly displayed white guilt many white liberals believe they are not part of the system of institutional racism and seek to avoid responsibility by pinning it squarely on those who identify as Republicans. They hope through symbolic but otherwise meaningless acts of social contrition and bowing before the self-appointed black aristocracy that they will continue to be able to rely on blindly voting race-centered blocs who have no choice but to vote Democrat.

    April 13, 2014 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  21. dave

    illegal is illegal

    April 13, 2014 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  22. bear

    If Repubs dispute Rep Israel they all are speaking the same Two words that Rep.Joe wilson said "you lie"

    April 13, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  23. Jerry Okamura

    How many of you believe there are NO people affiliated with EITHER party, that is a racist?

    April 13, 2014 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  24. Brian the Dog

    All sane and fair people see the resurgence of hatred , bigotry and lack of compassion growing by the conservative christians in the GOP. Old battles have to be fought again and won again against these religious and conservative imbeciles. Send them back to their churches of Satan from whence they were spawned.

    April 13, 2014 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  25. Shinea

    "The other side are racist" , he proclaims to his racist supporters. "and also hypocrites" he continues.

    April 13, 2014 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
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