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Goodlatte at Nexus of Obama Agenda

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
As the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte plans a slow approach to considering changes in immigration law.

Virginia Republican Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte is important, but don’t expect him to tell you that.

He’s the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and huge segments of President Barack Obama’s agenda must go through his committee.

That includes bills on the topics of gun control and immigration, both of which are enjoying political momentum that would have been shocking only months ago, when Goodlatte was gearing up to take his new post. Meanwhile, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has vowed to return the House to regular order, elevating the importance of committee chairmen.

But most would be forgiven for not knowing anything about Goodlatte. His reaction to this newfound importance has been to retreat, almost turtle-like, into a shell and away from the spotlight.

In the workweek following the Jan. 28 release of a new immigration framework by a bipartisan group of senators, transforming the political debate on that topic, Goodlatte conducted one television interview with a local station in his district, WSLS. “It’s a great opportunity for me and my constituents to take the lead on some of the key issues of the day,” he said.

If so, he’s not exactly making the most of it. The immigration statements Goodlatte’s staff released on his behalf seem almost designed not to attract attention.

By way of contrast, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the probable 2016 presidential candidate who is a key player in the immigration framework, invited a reporter into his office to watch him conduct back-to-back talk radio interviews and will go further into the mainstream when he participates in the inaugural BuzzFeed Brews newsmaker series on Tuesday.

Part of the reason for Goodlatte’s reticence may lie in local politics. In Goodlatte’s district, the largest tea party group, based in Roanoke, has posted “WANTED” posters with Goodlatte’s visage around town. Goodlatte’s crime, according to the poster, is “impersonating a constitutional conservative.”

In 2012, Karen Kwiatkowski garnered 33.5 percent in her primary challenge to Goodlatte, and activists are pushing for a convention for 2014, which could be a more difficult hurdle for Goodlatte to secure renomination.

“I think people are starting to have a lower tolerance level for incumbents going along with the status quo,” said Chip Tarbutton, president of the Roanoke Tea Party.

“In 2010 when we started, there was nobody that would even primary Goodlatte. We actually helped out a guy that was a libertarian run, and he got about 8 percent of the vote. Two years later, Karen Kwiatkowski ran as a Republican and got about 35 percent of the vote. If we can keep that train going, we’ll have him out of office in a year and a half,” he added.

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