In this Sept. 3, 2013 file photo, Rep. Steve Israel,...

In this Sept. 3, 2013 file photo, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y. is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

Democratic Rep. Steve Israel said Sunday that racism in the Republican Party is playing a role in blocking an immigration overhaul in congress.

"To a significant extent, the Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism," said Israel, (D-Huntington) during CNN's "State of the Union" program. "That's unfortunate."

The statement by Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, echoed criticism by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi earlier in the week, in which she said race was a factor in how Republicans responded to President Barack Obama's administration.

Host Candy Crowley asked Israel: "Do you think your Republican colleagues in Congress are racist?"

Israel replied: "Not all of them, no. Of course not."

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. The Senate bill would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally and 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 elections.

In a news conference last week, Pelosi said: "I think race has something to do with the fact 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," she said earlier this week.

Oregon's Rep. Greg Walden, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee and a guest on the show with Israel, said blaming racism was "both wrong and unfortunate." He said Republican opposition has been based on policy.

Israel denied Democrats were playing election year politics by playing up racial issues.

"We'd rather pass an immigration bill than worry about the election," he said.

With the AP

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