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Boehner: 'Vast majority' of House GOP wants to act on immigration; Pelosi points to support from 'Bible folks'

After months of being told to hurry up on immigration, it's time to wait.

House Republicans said they plan to act, but not in haste, after huddling in a closed-door meeting to discuss how to proceed on an immigration bill.

While the chamber intends to proceed on immigration, Speaker John Boehner reiterated on Thursday that the House would not take up the Senate immigration bill that passed last month with bipartisan support. Several House Republicans offered their perspectives on the issue during their meeting, Boehner said, concluding that “a vast majority” of the conference wants to see a bill passed that addresses border enforcement and the approximately 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

“It’s clear from the conversation we had yesterday that the members do believe—a vast majority of our members do believe—that we have to wrestle with this problem,” Boehner told reporters Thursday. “They also believe that we need to do this step-by-step common sense approach.”

Time, however, is working against the chances that a comprehensive bill—one that combines both tighter border security measures with a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally—survives the legislative process. In August, House and Senate lawmakers will leave Washington for an extended recess to face constituents at town hall meetings in their districts, where many will be pressured to kill the bill. In 2009, a series of lively public meetings nearly derailed President Barack Obama’s health care law, and immigration reform supporters know that their bill could suffer a similar fate.

The bill’s chances will become even grimmer if negotiations appear to extend into the next year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who also held a press conference Thursday, said she was “optimistic” that a bill could reach the president’s desk, but pointed out—correctly—that lawmakers will be apprehensive to take a risk on supporting an immigration overhaul in 2014, a year when all House members face re-election.

“If it doesn't happen in this year, then it's unlikely it's going to happen in an election year,” Pelosi, a Democrat of California, said.

Pelosi went on to describe support for immigration reform among traditionally conservative groups, referring to “law enforcement,” the “business community” and what she called “the Bible folks.” (She was attempting to refer to the “Bibles, Badges, Business” coalition, a project of the National Immigration Forum, which has promoted the bill. )

"The fact is that many Republicans in out country support immigration reform. The badges—law enforcement community—the business community, the Bible folks--many of those are Republicans—they have been very enthusiastic over time and getting impatient about Congress taking action. It would be a real failure on our part if we could not find a path to go to conference to air our differences to come up with a bill."