As I’ve been arguing here, one of the central questions of the moment is this: Is there any set of terms and conditions under which a sizable bloc of House Republicans can accept some form of legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country? A new Wall Street Journal report suggests Republicans may be grappling with this question a bit more seriously than previously thought:

Speaker John Boehner and other senior House Republicans are telling donors and industry groups that they aim to pass immigration legislation this year, despite the reluctance of many Republicans to tackle the divisive issue before the November elections.

Many lawmakers and activists have assumed the issue was off the table in an election year. But Mr. Boehner said at a Las Vegas fundraiser last month he was “hellbent on getting this done this year,” according to two people in the room.

Perhaps GOP leaders are just telling constituencies who want reform what they want to hear. But there’s also this:

Rep Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) also is drafting legislation that would give qualifying undocumented immigrants legal status and the chance to apply for citizenship through existing channels. The bill includes border-security measures and an effort to clear the backlog of applications for permanent legal status, known as green cards. House leaders have told Mr. Diaz-Balart to have the legislation ready to go for possible debate in June or July, an aide said.

This is interesting, because it means Republicans might — possibly — be grappling with the central policy and political conundrum on the table. The trick is to find a form of legal work status for the 11 million (they will call it “probation”) that is packaged with security and enforcement triggers that are tough enough to win over half of House Republicans, yet achievable and realistic enough to hold on to a lot of House Dems. (Since a bloc of Republicans won’t vote for reform under any circumstances, you need Dems to pass it through the House). Diaz-Balart recently told me he and other reformist Republicans have come up with language to solve this problem; the Journal report suggests GOP leaders have not ruled out moving on it.

The other important point here is that, if Boehner really has not ruled out moving this year, it means Republicans may be looking at the calendar in a reality-based way. Some Republicans have suggested they can simply postpone action until next year, but for various reasons it could be harder to act in 2015. It’s possible GOP leaders are beginning to recognize this.

Of course, the Journal story could simply mean House GOP leaders want to appear willing to act, before again blaming inaction on #Obummer. Still, expectations for the GOP on immigration have dropped so low that any sign of Republicans even flirting with the idea of engaging in constructive policy-making on the issue is worth noting.

* FOR REPUBLICANS, IT’S ALWAYS OCTOBER OF 2013: Now that Obamacare has hit eight million sign-ups, the GOP reaction, captured in this Post overview, seems even more out of touch than usual. Note that multiple Republicans hit the same point — that the real story is that Obamacare has victimized “millions.” And this is really something:

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy said Obama was “right” when he said the GOP refuses to accept the Affordable Care Act “as settled law.”

“Republicans cannot and will not accept this law,” McCarthy said in a statement.

Well, okay. But multiple GOP candidates are now mouthing support for Obamacare’s general goals of expanded coverage and strengthened protections, and others are beginning to acknowledge the law is helping people. Still, many Republicans continue to refuse the very existence of the law’s beneficiaries, and can’t seem to acknowledge the politics of the issue have moved on since October of 2013.

* REPUBLICANS IN DENIAL ABOUT OBAMACARE: Meanwhile, the Post has a good editorial summing up the state of the Affordable Care Act, noting that by various metrics, the news has been positive, even if Republicans are not yet willing to acknowledge it, and even though there’s still more work ahead:

The Obama administration has a lot more work to do: After this year’s big push, the marketplaces are not even half way to enrolling the 25 million or so customers the CBO expects eventually will sign up. Temporary measures to provide financial stability to the marketplaces will phase out over the next few years. And narrower networks must not result in people lacking timely access to basic care. Even so, the news about Obamacare is good, even if Republicans can’t quite bring themselves to admit it yet.

In coming weeks, expect Republicans to continue asserting flatly that the law is self-evidently a failure, as if the law cannot succeed by definition, since the base won’t have it any other way.

* GOOD HEADLINES FOR OBAMACARE: Mike Allen has a rundown:

— WSJ, top of page: “Obama Toughens Health Law Talk”

— NYT col. 5: “Signups Exceed Obama’s Goal For Health Act: A Total of 8 Million – Young Adults Enroll”

— WashPost, at fold: “Obama hails 8 million enrollees for health insurance: He says Democrats should take pride in face of GOP attacks”

 — L.A. Times 2-col. lead: “Obamacare enrollments top 8 million: With sign-ups well past projections, the president declares the repeal debate ‘over.’”

Nobody could have predicted that the October 2013 headlines would ever fade. Because, you know, in politics, nothing ever changes.

* HOW TO UNDERSTAND THE ARGUMENT OVER DEPORTATIONS: Norah Kaplan-Bricker has a useful guide to the argument over whether Obama is really a “deporter in chief,” noting a key distinction: While the total of removals (deportations with consequences) and returns (turnbacks at the border) has fallen from under Bush, the total of removals alone has risen under Obama…

Obama critics on the left say it’s wrong to treat removals and returns equally, since removals carry permanent, more serious consequences…Conservatives say that distinction is overblown — that what really counts is the sheer number of people the U.S. is sending back to their countries of origin.

One way of understanding this is that the Obama administration is losing the argument over the meaning of deportations with both the left and the right. But more on that another time.

* DEMS BATTLING MASSIVE AD ONSLAUGHT: The New York Times has an interesting overview of the Senate ad wars, noting that some $33 million worth of outside ads have attacked vulnerable Dem incumbents and candidates. Dem groups are turning to positive spots to counter the barrage of negativity (though GOP groups, too, are increasingly going positive). Watch for red state Dems to air their own positive spots grounding them in the state (such as this Mark Begich ad) to counter efforts to tie them to Reid-Pelosi-#Obummer national Democrats.

* SPIRIT OF GOLDWATER HAUNTS TODAY’S GOP: Michael Gerson warns Republicans that it’s time to face up to long term political reality:

The spirit of Goldwaterism is abroad among tea party activists. Their ideological ideal is often libertarian and Jeffersonian. A few — Rand Paul briefly during his Senate campaign; Rep. Ted Yoho at a recent town hall — balk at accepting the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act. More generally, they believe that the GOP’s political recovery must begin with the defeat of compromised GOP elites. Never mind that those elites, by any historical standard, are conservative…The Republican Party needs internal debate and populist energy. But it is not helped by nostalgia for a disaster.

Of course, one way GOP elites could take on those who are resisting the party’s need to evolve is by doing immigration reform.

* AND GOP PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS AVOIDING RANCH SHOWDOWN: An interesting catch by Timothy Cama: Republican presidential hopefuls like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan are remaining mum on Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the feds. That’s because…

GOP strategists suggested that Bundy’s case is too risky for most candidates eyeing the presidency, particularly given the possibility of armed conflict with federal police.

See? Who says today’s GOP is extreme?