By Russell Berman - 03/19/13 03:10 PM EDT
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday voiced support for the work of a secretive bipartisan immigration coalition in the House, but he said Republican lawmakers must be educated on the issue before legislation can advance.
A group of eight lawmakers — four Republicans and four Democrats — has been meeting privately for years to craft a comprehensive immigration overhaul, and they told Boehner and other Republican leaders last week that they were close to a deal.
“There’s a lot of issues here that have to be dealt with,” he added. “I think what the bipartisan group came up, frankly, is a pretty responsible solution.”
The Speaker has acknowledged the existence of the group and said in January it was close to a deal, but he had not previously endorsed the substance of its negotiations.
GOP leaders have not decided whether to move an immigration overhaul in separate pieces or one bill, and Boehner said he did not have a timetable for committee or floor action.
He also refused, as he has before, to weigh in on the contentious question of a path to citizenship for the illegal immigrants now in the U.S.
The House group has received less attention than its counterpart in the Senate, which announced an agreement on principles for immigration reform in January and is hoping to release a full legislative text in the coming weeks.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday said the negotiators were “very close” to a deal, which he said would include a pathway to citizenship.
"I don't want to go into specifics, that's for them to announce," Hoyer added, saying he expected them to share the plan “in the near term.”
Mike Lillis contributed
This story was updated at 12:55 p.m.