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."
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.