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Another GOP Congressman comes out for citizenship

In an interview with a conservative radio host on KVI AM 570, GOP Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington State came out for a path to citizenship.

You really should listen to the whole interview. As one Dem observed to me today, it suggests a template for how House Republicans can get from blanket opposition to “amnesty” to supporting comprehensive immigration reform — if they want to, of course.

The key quotes from the interview are this one:

“We have got to secure the border; once that’s done we’ve got to also, and you set a date certain, coming over to this country after a certain date you will be held accountable and responsible to the laws of this country. Then we’ve gotta find a way to build a solution around the 12 million people that are here.”

And this one:

“I want to get to the point where they have to pay a fine, there are some penalties they have to go through, there are some steps they have to go through. I want to hold them accountable, and then they get citizenship. And they’re going to pay taxes…you said you’re illegal, and now you’re going to to pay a penalty, and now you’re going to go through all these steps, but this entire time that you’re here, whatever the period of time is, you’re going to pay taxes to the federal government, you’re gonna help pay for the hospitals, you’re gonna help pay for the schools.”

Again, listen to the whole interview. Reichert is confronted by one conservative argument after another and works his way through them. There are a few key points to be made here.

First, Reichert returns again and again to the argument that the status quo is a form of “amnesty,” and that it’s untenable. As GOP pollster Whit Ayres has noted, this is an argument even GOP primary voters are receptive to; once they are engaged on the need to do something about the problem, they are open to some mix of reforms that includes beefed up security and citizenship, if it’s tied to strict conditions.

Second, Reichert agrees with his host that the border must be secured first. This is one of the key hurdles conservatives are putting in the way of reform. And other House Republicans, such as Kevin McCarthy, Aaron Schock, and Daniel Webster, have come out for citizenship or at least legalization, while saying the border must be secured first. But there still may be a potential area of consensus with Democrats around this point. A lot of this will turn on the details; if Republicans insist on triggers that are deliberately designed not to be met before any kind of legalization can happen, it could kill reform. But if they want to find a way to supporting comprehensive reform, there may well be a way to create security triggers up front — or simultaneously with the legalization process beginning — that Dems can accept. What really matters is whether Republicans want to get there or not; if so, the details can probably be made to work.

Interviews such as this one from Reichert, and the other quotes we’re seeing, raise the possibility that some Republicans are trying to see if there is a way politically for them to get to supporting legalization and citizenship. This really is the rub. Remember, the GOP position through the 2012 campaign was essentially that the only solution acceptable is deportation, and any path to citizenship of any kind — no matter what the conditions — constitutes rewarding lawbreakers and is therefore “amnesty.” The question is whether Republicans can figure out a way politically to get from there to reform. Note that Reichert casts undocumented immigrants as freeloaders now and says reform will force them to pay their freight. Republicans are looking for a way to argue that reform actually prevents these folks from escaping accountability and penalizes them en route to eventual citizenship in a sufficiently harsh way that their voters can accept this solution, grudgingly, as preferable to the status quo.

As I noted this morning, while there are still plenty of reasons to believe reform will probably die, the key thing to watch for is whether House Republicans are actually grappling with the issue. Reichert appears to do that here.