At an event this morning, John McCain effectively boxed in House Republicans on immigration by stating flatly that reform is a complete nonstarter unless it includes a path to citizenship.

Those are tough words for House Republicans, who are currently locked in an internal debate over reform, with some conservatives seemingly still looking for a way out that doesn’t include citizenship. It effectively closes off any escape routes for them.

Here’s McCain, at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast this morning:

A questioner brought up opposition to the path to citizenship, and asked McCain if there were any viable route to reform that doesn’t include it.

“There’s no way of getting this job done without giving people a path to citizenship,” McCain said. Speaking of the sub-citizenship legal status that some Republicans favor, McCain added: “Legal status is not something that someone should have to remain in unless they want to. And to say that you can have legal status, but you can’t have ever a path to become a citizen of this country…offends fundamental principles of fairness in our society.”

“I know that that opposition is there,” McCain continued. “I don’t think it’s valid. And I don’t think it’s held even by a majority of Republicans — certainly not in the Senate.”

There you have it: McCain is effectively putting this all on House Republicans. If they can’t pass reform with citizenship, and this whole effort fails, it’s on them.

All of this comes as House Republicans are beginning a process that would introduce immigration reform in pieces, an apparent effort to placate those who keep accusing lawmakers of “rushing” that process and claiming that could scuttle reform. The idea is to slowly build support among House conservatives for comprehensive reform, but it’s unclear thus far how citizenship would figure into that process. Meanwhile, House Republican sources are also claiming that they may settle on a plan that makes the path to citizenship even longer than the 13-year one in the Senate compromise.

But McCain made things pretty clear this morning: There are only two paths forward. The first is immigration reform with a path to citizenship. The second is failure. And that second option — in which far right members of the House end up killing reform — is the absolute worst possible outcome for Republican efforts to repair relations with Latinos.

The only way reform happens is if House Republicans cross the citizenship Rubicon and accept the consequences.


UPDATE: For further context, recall that conservatives in the House are actively plotting to scuttle the Senate immigration reform compromise.