WASHINGTON – An overhaul to the broken U.S. immigration system remains stalled because “the Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism,” the head of the committee to elect Democratic lawmakers to the House said Sunday.
Rep. Steve Israel’s comments are in line with those from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi earlier this week, in which she blamed racial issues for Republicans’ failure to act on comprehensive immigration legislation. Asked about Pelosi’s comments, Israel said he agreed with her assessment.
“To a significant extent, the Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism. And that’s unfortunate,” said Israel, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Frustration is mounting among the House’s Democratic minority and immigration activists about Republicans’ refusal to act on a far-reaching immigration bill passed by the Senate last year with bipartisan support. The Senate bill would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally, as well as tighten border security.
Republicans remain wary of a contentious debate on the divisive issue, which could anger their core voters and undercut potential electoral gains in the November polls, when control of Congress will be at stake.
“I think race has something to do with the fact that they’re not bringing up an immigration bill,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday.
Pelosi was responding to a question about whether race factors into how Republicans deal with members of the Obama administration. She accused Republicans of being generally disrespectful to members of the administration and to women.
Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, who heads the Republican committee to elect House members, said blaming racism was “both wrong and unfortunate.” He said his Republican colleagues have been critical of President Barack Obama and his party on policy grounds, not racial ones. “You know, there have been a lot of executive overreaches by this administration,” said Walden, who leads the National Republican Congressional Committee. “The American people just want to know the truth.”
The issue of immigration reform was also a point of contention between potential 2016 Republican presidential contenders Sen. Rand Paul, who said the U.S. “can’t invite the whole world” inside its borders, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who said Republicans should not demonize immigrants.