Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., speaks during the House Democratic leadership news conference on, Nov. 21, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty

Top Democrat: GOP base has ‘elements that are animated by racism’

Much of the Republican base is motivated by racism, a top Democrat said Sunday—adding fuel to an ongoing debate about the role of race in modern-day conservatism.

Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who chairs the House Democrats’ campaign arm, was asked by host Candy Crowley whether he felt his GOP colleagues are racist.

“Not all of them, no, of course not,” Israel said. “But to a significant extent, the Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism, and that’s unfortunate.”

Israel’s comments come as race has moved to the front-burner of political news lately.

Attorney General Eric Holder implied this week that because he’s African-American, Republicans give him less respect than they gave his predecessors in the post. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House leader, suggested that race is a factor in the GOP’s reluctance to move forward on immigration reform. And President Obama on Friday invoked the civil rights movement in urging supporters to push back against Republican-backed voting restrictions, which hit non-whites the hardest.

Meanwhile, a New York magazine article by Jonathan Chait, argues that disagreements about the role of race in conservative policy-making have become the central divide of the Obama era. The piece has provoked intense debate online and on air (see video below).

Asked by CNN’s Crowley about Pelosi’s comments on immigration, Rep., Greg Walden of Oregon disagreed that race was a factor.

“It’s both wrong and unfortunate,” Walden said of Pelosi’s claim.

Melissa Harris-Perry, 4/13/14, 12:59 PM ET

Jonathan Chait: Race more important during Obama years

New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait debates the subject of his new piece “Race Has Been the Real Story of the Obama Presidency All Along” with Melissa Harris-Perry.


Top Democrat: GOP base has 'elements that are animated by racism'