House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)
At the surface, there's ample reason for optimism on comprehensive immigration reform. President Obama is investing considerable political capital into the issue; the public strongly supports the reform efforts; a bipartisan bill is already progressing in the Senate; and every Republican strategist and consultant is warning the party not to further alienate the fastest-growing voting constituency in the country.
Even House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently declared, "This issue has been around far too long. A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I'm confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."
All House Republicans have to do now is be half-way reasonable and reform should become a reality. What could go wrong?
At a House Judiciary Committee hearing exploring an overhaul of the immigration system -- the first of several such hearings expected in the House -- Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the committee, tried to frame what he called the question of the day: "Are there options that we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship for those not lawfully present in the United States?"
It was a question later echoed by Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas and the former chairman of the committee, when questioning Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio. "Do you see any compromise area between the current status quo and a path to citizenship for virtually all the 11 million who are illegal immigrants in the country today?" he asked.
Hmm. Apparently, the position embraced by the White House, congressional Democrats, most of the public, and several Senate Republicans is now "the extreme" position, at least according to the far-right chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
What's more, around the same time as Goodlatte's remark, Boehner decided not to endorse a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and told reporters it would be "very difficult" for the House to approve the centerpiece of any credible, comprehensive reform package.
So much for the Speaker feeling "confident" about a "comprehensive" approach.
This is not to say the House GOP wants to do nothing -- their version of a compromise is approving measures they already like.
House Republicans on Tuesday staked out what they cast as a middle-ground option in the debate over immigration, pushing an approach that could include legal residency but not a path to citizenship -- as their Democratic counterparts favor -- for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
Republicans also signaled that they are open to the idea of breaking immigration legislation into several smaller bills, which would allow them to deal with the question of highly skilled workers, as well as a farmworker program, without addressing what Democrats and immigration advocates say is the larger issue of potential citizenship.
As for citizenship, Rep. Raul Labrador, a member of a bipartisan group of House members discussing immigration reform proposals, told reporters yesterday that undocumented immigrants don't really care about citizenship anyway, so there's no reason to make a fuss.
"They're not clamoring for it. It's only the activists here in Washington D.C. who keep clamoring for it," Labrador said.
So, on the one hand, immigrants could celebrate a semi-permanent status as second-class not-quite-citizens, and on the other, a comprehensive approach that nearly everyone agrees is necessary would be broken up so that provisions the right doesn't like could go away.
In fairness, I should note that many notable House Republicans have become rather cagey about what they are and are not willing to consider. They don't want a pathway to citizenship, and they don't like a comprehensive solution, but most of them have not categorically ruled out the possibility. These may be opening moves in a larger chess match in which the House GOP sees what it can get away with and how far mainstream voices can be pushed.
Or maybe the radicalized House Republican caucus fully intends to ignore the prevailing winds and public demand, and once again ruin any chance of serious policymaking in this Congress.