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Key House GOP player on immigration against 'path to citizenship'

The man who could be a pivotal player on immigration in the House called for a “guest-worker” program and path to “legal status,” but not citizenship.

“We should focus on common ground on legal status,” House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) told a group of reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Wednesday morning. “Once you have that status, you can qualify like everyone else.”

Goodlatte did not rule out a path to citizenship eventually, but not in this round.

“There are large number of people here unlawfully,” Goodlatte said. “It’s not a good thing to have them operating in the shadows.” 

But he said that does not mean they should get to the front of the line, so to speak, and become citizens. He called the immigration system “broken,” but “rather than get bogged down in semantics, we should try to find common ground to pass legislation.” 

Goodlatte said he has had discussions with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) and has respect for what he and the Gang of Eight in the Senate are trying to accomplish on immigration, but he said he had “some concerns” about some of the proposals laid out. But he declined to say specifically what those concerns are.

“I wont be able to write the bill in the room with you,” he said.

He also called for bills to be passed with “regular order,” meaning the House pass legislation, the Senate pass its version and then the two chambers conference to find “common ground.”

Despite what was an overwhelming victory by President Obama with Hispanics during the 2012 election – he won 71 percent of Latinos – there is still staunch opposition in many GOP corners on immigration reform. Goodlatte seemed to tacitly acknowledge that. 

“We’d like to see what they produce,” he said of the Senate. But, he added, it was necessary to “take the temperature” of members of his committee and the wider body of Republicans in the House to “see what can produce common ground.”

Asked by longtime political reporter Mark Shields of PBS, whether the Republican Party’s problems were the “pizza” or “the box,” in other words the substance or the packaging, Goodlatte said it was the box.

“It’s primarily our inability to communicate our message in a variety of ways,” Goodlatte argued, adding, “Our message still resonates with a lot of people; we have to figure out how to get it to resonate with more.”