House Speaker Boehner talks immigration reform

(CNN) -- Under pressure from House conservatives opposed to comprehensive immigration reform, House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday, "I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have majority support of Republicans."

Until now, Boehner has sidestepped questions about how he will move forward in the House on immigration reform and whether he would allow a vote on a bill that failed to garner support from at least half of the 234 GOP members.

The Senate is considering its version of immigration reform, and Boehner's comment raises new questions about whether any major immigration bill will get through Congress.

The condition that any bill must garner support from a majority of the GOP conference adds a new hurdle for immigration legislation that already faced a number of obstacles in a divided Congress.

House Republicans are deeply split on the issue, and many oppose giving the 11 million undocumented workers in the United States any path to citizenship. Many rank-and-file House GOP members vehemently oppose the bipartisan Senate bill and instead prefer to work on bills that are more narrowly focused on border security.

A group of outside conservative groups has been pressing House Republicans to codify the so-called Hastert rule, created by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R- Illinois, who vowed he would not bring any legislation to the House floor for a vote unless it had the support from a majority of House Republicans. Boehner has not expressly voiced support for that rule, and he has faced backlash from his own members when he allowed bills, such as the fiscal cliff deal and the Violence Against Women Act, to clear the House with only a small minority of Republicans voting for them.

'We have plenty of leverage'

Boehner talked to reporters after the weekly GOP conference meeting on Capitol Hill. A source who attended Tuesday morning's closed-door meeting said Boehner assured House members that he has no plan to pass an immigration bill without majority GOP support.

"This town thrives on nonstories. And the biggest nonstory of the week is this speculation that I'm somehow planning secretly to pass an immigration bill without a majority of Republicans," Boehner said, according to the source.

"The only time any speaker allows a major bill to pass without a majority of the majority is when there is zero leverage. Denny Hastert did it on campaign finance reform and several other bills when he had no leverage and no other option. Nancy Pelosi did it on Iraq war funding and other bills when she had no leverage and no other option. And yes, it has happened to me a couple times, such as the fiscal cliff and hurricane relief, where we had no leverage and we faced a worse alternative, politically or in terms of policy.

"Let me be clear: Immigration is not one of these scenarios. We have plenty of leverage. And I have no intention of putting a bill on the floor that will violate the principles of our majority and divide our conference. One of our principles is border security. I have no intention of putting a bill on the floor that the people in this room do not believe secures our borders. It's not gonna happen."

When asked if Boehner's comments were a sign that immigration reform is essentially dead, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, appealed for unity.

"I hope that's not true," he said. "We were only able to reach an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform because we did it on a bipartisan basis. I hope that Speaker Boehner realizes the only way to success in the House on the same issue is on a bipartisan basis. If he insists on this being a Republicans-authored and (Republican)-inspired program, it has limited chance of success."

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer predicted that if the Senate passes its bipartisan bill, "Republican leadership is going to be under great pressure to let the House work its will." He noted that GOP leaders regularly say they follow that pledge, and said at his weekly session with reporters, "either they mean it or they don't mean it. They're either hypocrites or they're not."

Bipartisan group's work continues

A bipartisan group of seven House members -- three Republicans and four Democrats -- is still finalizing its own comprehensive immigration bill that mirrors many of the provisions in the Senate bill, including eventual citizenship for undocumented workers. According to an aide familiar with those discussions, that bill could be unveiled as early as this week. But even the GOP members of that group admit that the measure isn't likely to gain significant support within the GOP conference.

House Republican leaders have scheduled a special conference meeting for July 10 to discuss the next steps on immigration. Senate Democratic leaders hope to vote on their bill before Congress takes a break for the Fourth of July holiday.

As he faced mounting pressure from his own members about how to proceed, Boehner attempted to place the blame for any problems with immigration reform on President Obama and Democrats.

"I'm increasingly concerned that the White House and Senate Democrats would rather have this as an issue in the 2014 election rather than a result," he said.

While Boehner did say he wouldn't move an immigration bill that didn't get majority support from his own members, one senior House Democratic aide noted that he did not rule out breaking the "majority of the majority" test on an immigration bill that could emerge from a conference committee negotiated between the House and the Senate, if both bodies pass different measures.

Hoyer acknowledged that while House Republicans may not feel pressure to back comprehensive reform, national GOP leaders from the "presidential wing" of the party do want Congress to act on this issue because the party did so poorly among Latino voters in 2012. "I think there will be a lot of pressure from Republicans on the Republican House."

A new CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday shows a small majority of Americans support the approach in the Senate bill. The poll shows that 51% say they support a bill that would attempt to increase border security and create a pathway to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants, with 45% saying they are opposed to such a measure.

Boehner is scheduled to meet with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Wednesday to discuss immigration reform.