It began with a tiny leak earlier this month — sources telling the Wall Street Journal that Speaker John A. Boehner, behind closed doors, said he's "hell bent" on tackling immigration this year.
Now, an issue that had been pronounced legislatively dead just weeks ago is one of the hottest topics facing lawmakers in both parties returning to Washington after a two-week recess.
The signs of life for a revitalized push for an immigration overhaul are suddenly popping up everywhere:
- Sen. Mike Lee, telling Fox News on Monday that "most members" of the Republican Conference in the House are actually "eager to pass some sort of immigration reform." The Utah Republican, one of the most visible spokesmen of the tea-party-wing of the party, cautioned that immigration legislation "needs to be broken up. It needs to be taken step by step. One step at a time."
- In an interview that aired Sunday, Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas, a senior conservative, told the Dallas-area program "Lone Star Politics" that he is close to introducing his own immigration bill that would include a path to citizenship for children, legal status for some adults, beefed up border security and a guest worker program.
- Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the fourth-ranked Republican in the House and the highest-ranked woman in the conference, told her local newspaper on April 24 that she thinks an immigration deal can be struck this year. “I believe there is a path that we get a bill on the floor by August,” she told the paper. “We’re going to have to push that this is a legal status, not amnesty.”
- California Democrat Xavier Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, jumped on McMorris Rodgers' comments. "It's important to recognize the statement of House GOP Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers joining those in support of a vote in the House to fix our broken immigration system," he said Monday in a statement. "The more time Members of Congress spend with their constituents, the more they come to realize how truly important immigration reform is. ... The time to vote is now."
- Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a major behind-the-scenes player in ongoing efforts to produce a bill, told CQ Roll Call that he and other lawmakers are "as close as we have ever been" to making a deal. "It is still a big, big, heavy lift," he said, but he's optimistic: "I think we're going to get there."
- Two Illinois Republicans, Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Aaron Schock, added their voices to calls for a policy rewrite with video testimonials presented by organizers at a pro-immigration rally in Chicago.
- The speaker himself doubled down on his off-the-record comments with more controversial remarks delivered last week at a Rotary Club luncheon in Ohio, in which he openly mocked opponents of action on immigration. "Here's the attitude. 'Ohhhh. Don't make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard,'" Boehner told a gathering of Rotarians at Brown's Run Country Club in Madison Township.
- Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, told the Christian Post last week that members of the speaker's staff have assured him there would be an opportunity to take up immigration in June and July. Carey is part of a collection of more than 200 evangelicals from 25 states who plan a pro-immigration reform meeting in Washington on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama and other leading Democrats are feeling pressure themselves from activists who are demanding a deal — or executive action. The administration is weighing whether to unilaterally decide to allow undocumented immigrants who don't have serious criminal records to stay in the U.S. A dozen immigration-rights protesters were arrested Monday outside the White House.
There are still many on the GOP side of the aisle unhappy about talk of a new immigration deal.
"The Obama Administration has its own kind of immigration reform: President Obama is, reportedly, working on more and newer ways to flaunt his disregard for existing immigration law, this time by attempting to stop the deportation of people who have repeatedly broken our laws by entering and re-entering the U.S. illegally," said Rep. John Fleming, R-La., in a statement to CQ Roll Call. "House Republicans should focus on demanding that this administration abide by existing laws instead of even considering drafting new immigration laws for Obama to use to his political advantage."
The conservative Heritage Foundation has also slammed the rumored deal. Heritage Action for America CEO Michael A. Needham called Boehner’s Rotary Club remarks “disappointing.”
"The Republican Party should be large enough for fact-based policy debates,” Needham said. “Unfortunately, John Boehner is more interested in advancing the agenda of high-powered D.C. special interests than inspiring Americans with a policy vision that allows freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society to flourish.”
Related: Boehner Walks Back Immigration Comments Video Shows Boehner Mocking Colleagues on Immigration Where Do House Republicans Stand on Immigration Principles? (Updated Whip Count) Get breaking news alerts from Roll Call on your iPhone or in your inbox.