House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) says Congress… (Susan Walsh / Associated…)
WASHINGTON -- With President Obama making immigration reform a top priority, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has just one bit of advice: Stay away.
Rep. Robert Goodlatte, a conservative immigration lawyer from Virginia, said achieving an overhaul of immigration laws has better odds if Congress takes the lead rather than the president, who enjoys little support from rank-and-file Republican lawmakers.
“That is a mistaken way to go about it, and a top-down approach hasn’t worked in the past,” Goodlatte said during a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
The chairman made it clear he has little interest in the pathway to citizenship that Obama wants for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already living in this country, even as the Republican Party has openly acknowledged the need to better court Latino voters for whom the issue is important. A bipartisan group of eight senators is privately drafting such a citizenship proposal, but Goodlate prefers a more limited form of legality.
U.S. immigration law: Decades of debate
“There’s a broad spectrum between deportation and a special pathway to citizenship,” Goodlatte said. “To me, rather than getting bogged down in semantics we ought to look at what actually would enable us to find common ground to be able to pass legislation.”
The comments from the 11-term congressman come after top Republican senators in the bipartisan group, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, reported an “excellent” meeting with Obama at the White House this week, as the president indicated he will step up his role in advancing his top priority.
The party has been struggling internally with the best approach on immigration as it tries to broaden its electoral appeal. The House committee is working with Republican lawmakers to introduce them to immigration issues and to try to find consensus around a strategy.
Goodlatte said he welcomed the bipartisan efforts of the Senate group, and another one in the House, in hammering out details of immigration reform legislation. But like many chairmen, he guards the prerogative of his committee’s jurisdiction.
TRANSCRIPT: President Obama on immigration reform
“I do have concerns about a lot of the different proposals I’ve seen,” he said.
At the same time, he said, he hopes to broaden the conversation from its current pressure points.
“This is not just about the border,” he said, noting that many of those here illegally entered the country in lawful ways, but overstayed. “This is also not an ethnic issue or a racial issue.”
With Republicans in control of the House and Democrats in the Senate, Goodlatte noted. Obama could learn a lesson from former President George W. Bush, who led a 2007 effort to work with the opposition party in Congress on immigration. It ended in failure.
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