Gutierrez: Speaker Boehner's 'quandary' will not sink immigration reform

Republican divisions over immigration policy will not prevent the House from voting on a comprehensive reform package this year, Rep. Luis Gutierrez predicted Tuesday.

The Illinois Democrat said the pressure on Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) will push the Speaker to take up a sweeping reform package that includes a pathway to citizenship, like that passed by the Senate, rather than consider only a conservative piecemeal approach, as many in his conference are pushing.

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"Boehner is not the kind of – how would I say it – ideological guy. Right? … He wants to try to reach consensus. I believe that about him," Gutierrez said in an interview with CNBC.

Senate passage of a bipartisan reform bill leaves Boehner caught between the majority of his conference – which opposes the citizenship option as providing "amnesty" to "criminals" – and national GOP leaders who are supporting that pathway, if only to attract more Hispanic voters to the party.

Boehner last week doubled down on earlier vows not to consider any immigration bills without the backing of a majority of his troops.

Gutierrez, a member of the bipartisan House group still negotiating a comprehensive reform bill, was quick to note Boehner's "quandary" on the issue. But he also predicted that "the magnitude of the demand" from both inside and outside the GOP would move the Speaker to scrap the Hastert rule and vote on a comprehensive bill.

"They're going to understand that our community really embraces this in a way that is going to be very unforgiving to them," Gutierrez said. "So if they want to be a party of localities and provinces and [take] some states, then don't allow a vote. They will never be a national party ever again."

The Senate last week passed its bipartisan immigration bill with a lopsided 68-32 vote, but the citizenship provision is a non-starter with many rank-and-file Republicans, and Boehner has said he won't consider it on the floor.

"I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have a majority support of Republicans," Boehner said last month.

Meanwhile, efforts to secure a House equivalent have run into much more difficulty. Although the four Democrats in the bipartisan House group have signed off on a comprehensive reform package, the three Republican negotiators have not yet done so.

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), a member of the group, said Friday that the delay has more to do with the complexity of the legislative language than it does with any policy concerns. He was hopeful the group would be able to release a final product when Congress returns to Washington after this week's holiday vacation.

"We expect … to be finished after this July [Fourth] break," he said.

House Republicans have been moving a series of piecemeal reform bills championed by GOP leaders of the Judiciary Committee. Those bills have focused heavily on border security and other enforcement efforts – and they don't include a pathway to citizenship for the country's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants – making them unlikely to move through the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The different approaches and priorities of the two chambers has left the future of immigration reform – one of President Obama's top second-term priorities – in limbo.

"Basically the only way you get this over the Republican goal line is by making the bill far harsher than it already is," Jared Bernstein, a former economic advisor to Obama and now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told CNBC Tuesday.

"Anything that comes out of the House of Representatives is going to make the path to citizenship as far as the Senate looks like a walk in the garden."

Gutierrez said Tuesday that the addition of a comprehensive House bill – if it's ever finalized – would give Boehner cover and heighten the odds that reform will pass this year.

"We're going to find a way," he said. "No matter what, you need a bipartisan group and bipartisan proposal in the House of Representatives so we can bring the Paul Ryans and those who want to find a solution. That helps facilitate the process for John Boehner."