WASHINGTON -- Despite hearing concerns from some House Republicans about providing a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declined Thursday to rule out the option, saying it remains to be seen whether legalization can pass the House.
"We're going to find out," he told reporters, referring to support for bills on legalization or a pathway to citizenship. "But the twitter from the conversation yesterday was that the members do believe -- the vast majority of our members do believe -- we have to wrestle with this problem. But they also believe that we need to do a step-by-step, common-sense approach."
Boehner has repeatedly refused to give a straight answer on whether he supports allowing undocumented immigrants to eventually become citizens, arguing that it's not helpful for him to voice a view publicly because he should instead listen to his members. His only firm lines have been that a Senate-passed bill will go nowhere in the House, and that border security must come before legalization.
But for now, there's no consensus within the House Republican conference, or within the lower chamber as a whole, on what to do about immigration reform -- or even if legislators should do anything. Boehner did not say whether he would "find out" if GOP members could support legalization or a path to citizenship by holding a vote, or if that discovery would only involve continued conversations.
Boehner, for his part, argued that the House should and must act on reform in some way, a pitch he also made to his members at a GOP conference meeting on immigration on Wednesday. "Republicans ought to be part of the solution," he told reporters on Thursday.
He repeated that he won't do anything without support from a majority of House Republicans -- a desired threshold that could wind up killing immigration reform, given opposition within the conference -- but acknowledged that Democrats are needed, too.
Democrats by and large support reform, and many think the House could pass legislation if it relied on a majority of all members, rather than looking only at the will of Republicans.
Boehner insisted that ruling out a vote that would gain a majority of Democrats, but not most Republicans, does not undermine his efforts to facilitate discussion.
Democrats have said they won't support reform without a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reiterated that point in a separate press conference on Thursday. She said she's open to a piecemeal approach, but if it doesn't include legalization, it won't include Democratic votes.
Pelosi encouraged GOP members to remember that many Republicans nationwide favor reform -- a statement that has been backed up by some polling -- and referred specifically to the "Bibles, Badges and Business" coalition of pro-reform conservatives.
"The fact is that many Republicans in our country support comprehensive immigration reform," Pelosi said. "The badges, law enforcement community; the business community; the Bible folks -- many of them are Republican, they have been very enthusiastic over time and getting impatient about Congress taking action."