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, New York's 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 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 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. ... They want to know answers. And that's all we're trying to do."
The issue of immigration reform was also a point of contention among potential 2016 Republican presidential contenders. Republican Sen. Rand Paul said potential White House rival Jeb Bush was inarticulate when he described immigrants who come to the United States illegally as committing an "act of love."
In an interview that aired Sunday, Paul said that those immigrants "are not bad people" but added the United States "can't invite the whole world" inside its borders.
Paul, the Kentucky Republican eyeing a 2016 campaign, says Bush should have kept his focus on controlling the U.S. borders.
Bush, a former Florida governor, says Republican cannot demonize immigrants and should show compassion. He described illegal immigration as an "act of love" by people trying to provide for their families.
Israel and Walden spoke on CNN's "State of the Union." Paul was interviewed on ABC's "This Week" during a visit to New Hampshire which holds the first-in-the nation presidential primary every four years.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.