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Key House Republican rejects pathway to citizenship

Occasionally, one can be forgiven for feeling optimistic about the odds of success on comprehensive immigration reform. The White House is fully invested in the
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)

Occasionally, one can be forgiven for feeling optimistic about the odds of success on comprehensive immigration reform. The White House is fully invested in the process; there's real progress in the Senate; and the relevant stakeholders are increasingly on board. Indeed, just today, the AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce embraced a shared immigration framework.

And then, just when you think it's safe to feel hopeful, you get a splash of cold water in the face, and think, "Oh right, the Republican-led House of Representatives still exists."

Immigration reform's chances in the House are looking bleaker after one of the top Republicans tasked with shepherding a bill to passage ruled out a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chair of the Judiciary Committee that will mark up any House legislation on the issue, told NPR this week that he will not support a bill that eventually grants citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in America.

Just so we're clear, including a pathway to citizenship in an immigration-reform bill isn't just some luxury add-on element -- it's largely the point of working on reform in the first place. This provision is at the heart of the entire endeavor. Goodlatte's willingness to tackle the issue, but without a mechanism to help those undocumented immigrants who are already here, is effectively the same thing as opposing reform in its entirety.

His position does not come as a huge surprise. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month said support for a pathway to citizenship -- a position embraced by the Obama White House, the Bush White House, congressional Democrats, most of the public, and several Senate Republicans -- is an "extreme" position. His formal opposition was only a matter of time.

So, does this mean comprehensive immigration reform is dead, just as the process gets underway in earnest? That's probably an overstatement, but so long as there's a radicalized House GOP majority, reform proponents are looking at a very steep climb.

Remember, Goodlatte is not just some random committee chair -- if immigration reform is going to happen at all, it's going to have to advance through the House Judiciary Committee, which the far-right Virginian chairs.

As those who watch Congress carefully know, in rare instances, major pieces of legislation can bypass the committee process. In fact, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he wants comprehensive reform to pass in this Congress, and he could, in theory, circumvent Goodlatte and bring an immigration bill directly to the floor in the hopes it might pass.

I'll pause for a moment until you finish chuckling at the notion of Boehner showing this kind of leadership.

Despite the long odds, I can still imagine a set of circumstances that leads to success. Picture this: a bipartisan package is approved in the Senate, President Obama continues to keep the pressure on, polls show the American mainstream expects the House to at least hold a vote, GOP strategists start advising party leaders that killing reform would cost Republicans dearly in the 2014 midterms, and Boehner has to worry about a discharge petition forcing his hand. Could conditions like these overcome far-right opposition? Yes, it's possible.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.