Bob Goodlatte, the representative from Roanoke, has the floor

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Bob Goodlatte Bob Goodlatte

For those who have assiduously followed this column (yes, both of you), the name Bob Goodlatte may not immediately ring a bell. The reason for this is simple: as a consummate back-bencher and milquetoast anti-immigrant conservative, Virginia’s 6th district U.S. House representative is about as boring as they come. (Seriously—most stories on the guy lead with the fact that he collects elephant figurines and signed baseballs.)

But with Goodlatte’s recent promotion to chairman of the House Judiciary Committee (which oversees all things immigration), the story became much more interesting. After all, this is a guy who proudly touts his A+ rating from the rabidly isolationist group NumbersUSA, backed a bill that would require hospitals to report undocumented immigrants, and has supported the repeal of the Constitution’s 14th amendment, which grants immediate citizenship to all children born in the United States.

In fact, when Goodlatte was elevated to judiciary chairman by House Speaker John Boehner, there was some speculation that he was installed specifically to scuttle immigration reform. And indeed, after a comprehensive immigration package passed the Senate by a 68-32 vote (a margin almost unprecedented in the Obama era), Goodlatte was among the first to say that the Senate bill’s “pathway to citizenship” would not fly in the Republican-dominated House.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Goodlatte insisted that his caucus wouldn’t accept a “special pathway to citizenship, where people who are here unlawfully get something that people who have worked for decades to immigrate lawfully do not have.” What’s more, House Republicans have completely rejected the idea of an all-inclusive bill, and are instead claiming that they will work on passing a series of smaller, focused immigration bills, addressing such issues as border security and green card reform. (Of course, even these measures are theoretical, as the House adjourned for the summer without taking up a single immigration bill.)

Still, many Republicans (chief among them John McCain, the Arizona senator who ran for president promising to “fix the dang fence”) have loudly insisted that refusing to address immigration reform will doom the party to electoral failure. And to his credit, Goodlatte has struck a far more conciliatory tone than his predecessor as judiciary chairman, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith. (In a recent series of interviews with Spanish-language outlets such as Univision, Goodlatte has tentatively supported a “pathway to legalization,” and pointedly criticized his fellow House member Steve King, who recently claimed that many immigrant children “weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”)

Whether or not any of this inclusive rhetoric results in decent legislation remains to be seen. Given the GOP’s recent history on the issue, the chances seem very slim indeed. But here at the Odd Dominion, we’re big believers in enlightened redemption (even if it’s transparently fueled by fear of electoral catastrophe). And so we’ll keep an eye on the good gentleman from Roanoke, and hope against hope that he manages to do the right thing—both for his party and, by extension, our increasingly diverse nation.

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