Most of the Republicans in the House agree that immigration reform is dead for this year and probably well into 2014.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly ruled out taking up the comprehensive Senate bill, and senior Republicans say it is unlikely that the party, bruised from its internal battle over the government shutdown, will pivot quickly to an issue that has long rankled conservatives.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a leadership ally, told reporters Wednesday there is virtually no chance the party would take up immigration reform before the next round of budget and debt ceiling fights are settled. While that could happen by December if a budget conference committee strikes an agreement, that fight is more likely to drag well in 2014: the next deadline for lifting the debt ceiling, for example, is not until Feb. 7.
"I don't even think we'll get to that point until we get these other problems solved," Cole said.
He said it was unrealistic to expect the House to be able to tackle what he called the "divisive and difficult issue" of immigration when it can barely handle the most basic task of keeping the government's lights on.
"We're not sure we can chew gum, let alone walk and chew gum, so let's just chew gum for a while," Cole said.
In a colloquy on the House floor, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) asked Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to outline the GOP's agenda between now and the end of 2013.
Cantor rattled off a handful of issues - finishing a farm bill, energy legislation, more efforts to go after ObamaCare - but immigration reform was notably absent.
When Hoyer asked Cantor directly on the House floor for an update on immigration efforts, the majority leader was similarly vague.
"There are plenty of bipartisan efforts underway and in discussion between members on both sides of the aisle to try and address what is broken about our immigration system," Cantor said. "The committees are still working on this issue, and I expect us to move forward this year in trying to address reform and what is broken about our system."
There is no appetite to bring the Senate "comprehensive" version of immigration reform to the floor. The preference of most Republicans is to vote on 2 or 3 bills that address various aspects of the issue, but not a path to citizenship. There is also concern the Senate bill doesn't go far enough on border security, although major changes that would be acceptable to Senate Democrats are probably off the table.
In truth, there's just no way that lawmakers in either party want to tackle immigration in an election year. This will anger immigration activists - but they weren't going to vote Republican anyway. There is some danger that Hispanics will be energized to go out and vote against Republicans next year, but historically, that just doesn't happen.