It isn’t every day that a House Republican steps forward to chastise the GOP leadership. But the Modesto Bee reports that GOP Rep. Jeff Denham of California, at a meeting with immigration advocates and constituents, was sharply critical of his own party’s leaders and their foot-dragging on immigration reform:

“The Senate bill won’t get a vote in the House, and it’s something that could have helped this community,” Denham said to the some 25 people present. “I am frustrated. I thought we’d get this done before the August work period. I think the Senate made tremendous progress. It was done bipartisan and I thought that would be enough to get the House moving forward.”
The assembled group included concerned residents, area attorneys, church pastors, union representatives, chamber members and Latino organizers. Many wanted to know why a comprehensive reform seemed out of reach in the House.
“I don’t know I have a good answer,” Denham said. “It probably has a lot more to do with politics than policy.”

In a sense, this isn’t that surprising. Rep. Denham has already voiced support for comprehensive reform, and he represents a district that went for Obama in 2012. But Denham’s remarks raise a question: how many Republicans who want immigration reform — however few there turn out to be — will be vocal about it and prod the GOP caucus to act?

Immigration reform advocates who are closely following the reception House Republicans are receiving in their districts over the recess are cautiously optimistic, based on the fact that some of them seem to be seriously grappling with the issue. They are hoping that those Republicans who do want to see action — such as Denham, who explicitly says above that it would help the people of his district — will make the case for action in these terms when they return.

“It’s going to be important for the pro-reform Republicans in the House to be vocal, and to try to bring their conference along, when they get back here,” Simon Rosenberg, the head of the New Democrat Network, a group advocating for immigration reform, told me today.

If GOP leaders wanted comprehensive reform to happen — and whether they do or not remains the key question — the bulk of developments we’re seeing right now would be helpful to them. The promised conservative backlash has yet to materialize in the fearsome terms we were told to expect. Indeed there are signs the GOP base remains more preoccupied with its insane drive to shut down the government than it does with “amnesty.” Meanwhile, scattered House Republicans are beginning to make the case that inaction is no longer an option and that action is necessary for the good of the economy and for their own constituents. If we hear more like this — a big if, but still — that should theoretically make it easier for GOP leaders to say some in their own caucus want them to engage the issue seriously.

But again, it all depends on whether GOP leaders decide they want to get to comprehensive reform. If they do, the details will fall into place. If they don’t, they won’t.