House Republicans are on their way to the eastern shore of Maryland for their annual retreat. Speaker John Boehner is expected to present a set of “principles” for immigration reform to his colleagues. They don’t include a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people who are in the country illegally.
Only one House Democrat has stepped forward to say he’d accept a path to legalization instead of citizenship. But a key party leader says he's an outlier.
Congressman Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) says he’s willing to work with Republicans “in any which way” on immigration, including supporting legalization. That puts the freshman on the opposite side of the rest of his party, which supports citizenship.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says citizenship is a Democratic “principle” and describes Vargas as an impatient “very new member.” She calls him the "odd person out," not the beginning of a wave of Democratic defections. "We have too much invested to surrender before we even negotiate," she says. "We’re not going to that place.”
Democrats delivered that message to Vargas, who says he’s had a “private” conversation with the head of the Democratic Caucus, L.A. Congressman Xavier Becerra, who has a “different perspective.”
But Vargas is sticking to his guns, saying there has to be a deal on immigration reform. He says there's "a lot of good-hearted Republicans that want to work with us. And I’m willing to work with them even if I get beat up by my own party."
Republicans will have their own internal party debate over immigration principles at this week’s House GOP retreat.
But Kevin Appleby, director of Migration for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told reporters on a Wednesday morning conference call that those GOP principles aren’t the final product. "It’s important that there’s not an overreaction to what the Republicans put out," Appleby said. He called the GOP principles "a starting point, not a finishing point."
Appleby says Boehner will need Democratic as well as Republican votes to pass immigration reform in the House.