But it's a long slog from here. The House still has to pass a bill, and then a conference committee has to sort through the bills' differences — which could be massive — and then each house has to pass it through again. The key is really the House. The Senate has shown it can pass a bill, so the real question is how the bill, or something like it, is making it through the lower house of Congress. Here are three paths that it could take.
1. The Gang of 7
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez said Thursdaythat the House Gang of Seven bill — crafted by him, Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), John Carter (R-Tex.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Sam Johnson (R-Tex), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) — has been written, and he's just waiting on the other members of the Gang (which was a Gang of Eight before Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) bolted).
The bill will almost certainly include a path to citizenship, border security measures, a guest worker program and other similar attributes to the Senate Gang of Eight bill. However, there will likely be significant differences. Diaz-Balart has said that he thinks some parts of the Senate bill — such as the scale of its guest worker program, as negotiated by the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — are unworkable, and the House bill may reflect those differences of opinion.
Diaz-Balart has also sounded optimistic about passing the bill through the House with majority support from Republicans, allowing House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) to obey the "Hastert rule," wherein only bills supported by a "majority of the majority" reach the House floor. However, Gutiérrez has signaled it may be able to come to a vote without meeting that requirement. Some outside observers are optimistic about this channel; Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, director for civic engagement and immigration at the National Council of La Raza, expressed optimism about it in an interview last month.
2. The Goodlatte Approach
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee who opposes a path to citizenship, has suggested a different path from the Gang of Seven. He's already shepherded the SAFE Act, which criminalizes the act of being an undocumented immigrant, enabling local law enforcement to pursue undocumented immigrants, and the Ag Act, which establishes an agricultural guest worker program, through committee. He's also introduced a bill to make the E-Verify program for checking workers' legal status mandatory.
So one option is that one or a package of Goodlatte's bills passes the House and then goes into a conference committee with the Senate Gang of Eight bill. Whether the bill that gets out of conference looks anything like a comprehensive, path-to-citizenship bill is anyone's guess, but this approach has the advantage of only making the House vote on a path to citizenship once, as Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress and a major player in the 2006 and 2007 efforts, told me last month. But this path could still require breaking the Hastert rule, especially if the conference report includes a path to citizenship.
3. Discharge petition
This is the most exotic option. If 218 House members sign what's called a "discharge petition," famous for its role in limiting the power of House Speaker Joseph Cannon (R-Ill.) and in the plot of "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde," then they can bring a bill to the floor without a committee vote or the cooperation of the House leadership. There are 201 Democrats in the House, so they'd need 17 Republicans, not to mention a unified caucus, to succeed. But that's a way for the House to vote on a comprehensive bill without Boehner breaking the Hastert rule and without the support of most Republicans.