It was a good and bad day for immigration overhaul. On the good side, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office Tuesday singlehandedly undercut fiscal objections from conservatives by reporting in its analysis of the "Gang of 8" Senate bill that reform would cut the national deficit and improve the U.S. economy.
But on the political side of the equation, a big blow to comprehensive immigration overhaul came from the very top of Capitol Hill. House Speaker John Boehner said he wouldn't bring a bill to the floor for a vote without a majority of Republican votes behind it.
"Any immigration reform bill that is going to go into law ought to have a majority of both parties' support if we're really serious about making that happen," the Ohio Republican said. "And, so, I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have a majority support of Republicans."
Ouch! So is that the end of seven months work in the House and Senate to fix a broken system that robs the U.S. Treasury of tax dollars while forcing an estimated 11 million undocumented people to live in the shadows?
Advocates are not panicking and here is why. November may have faded from the minds of some conservative GOPers, but the national party knows that in order to be viable, it cannot be on the wrong side of immigration again and expect to win the presidency or even majorities in the House and Senate again.
That is why just a week ago, on "Good Morning America," the speaker of the House had a different story to tell George Stephanopolous. When asked "if that means putting on the floor a bill that will get more Democrats than Republicans":
BOEHNER: I don't believe that will be the case.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're open to it?
BOEHNER: We're going to let the House work its will.
The speaker went on to say that he expected a bill the president could sign to be passed by the end of the year.
That unleashed a conservative firestorm.
"I would consider that a betrayal of the Republican members of the House and a betrayal of the Republicans throughout the country," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. R-Calif., said on World Net Daily radio Tuesday. "If Boehner moves forward ... and permits this to come to a vote even though the majority of Republicans in the House -- and that's if they do --oppose what's coming to a vote, he should be removed as speaker."
Then the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee passed a bill declaring any undocumented person in the United States a criminal, further isolating the GOP from Latinos.
But there is a way out for Boehner, a way to save his party from the fringes and it was outlined in an odd place, not by a liberal Democrat but by a leading tea partier herself on a conservative radio program.
On Laura Ingraham's radio show, Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said Boehner would use a "loophole" to subvert the so-called Hastert Rule that says a Republican speaker will only send to the floor bills supported by a Republican majority even if it would pass in bipartisan fashion.
"I think there's still a loophole that the speaker might allow himself, that he won't hold himself to the Hastert rule," she said Monday. "In the shorthand, this is what I think is going to happen, the very bad bill is going to be in the Senate.
"We're going to have a Trojan Horse bill that will look very good. It will look like border security in the House. Conservatives will vote for it in the House. Both bills will go to conference committee. The guts will get pulled out of the good bill. Amnesty will get put in.
"The Senate will pass it," she added. "It will go to the House. Nancy Pelosi will deliver all of the Democrat votes and all John Boehner has to do is deliver the committee chairs that hold the gavel."
And there is one other reason immigration overhaul advocates are not panicked.
Back in December, Boehner said he was "not interested" in a bill on the "fiscal cliff" that most of the GOP would reject.
But he brought that one to the floor and it passed.
The road to passage of immigration legislation is nearly as arduous as the path to citizenship it calls for.