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Immigration reform: Is 'amnesty' a possibility now?

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"This is like a wall that stops the other issues from getting through," says Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) of Florida, a longtime immigration reform advocate. "And while that wall is there, the Republican Party has a serious problem."

House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio signaled a shift when he told ABC News a day after the election that "a comprehensive approach [to immigration] is long overdue, and I'm confident that the president, myself, others, can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."

That's a departure from previous immigration-reform attempts, in which the GOP brass wasn't on board.

Perhaps just as important, though, is that several leading lawmakers with near-pristine conservative credentials are also involved.

Two tea party superstars – Senators Rubio and Lee, both of whom knocked out establishment Republican figures to win their seats – are going to be key players in any reform.

In the House, the involvement of House Judiciary chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia and Representative Labrador of Idaho can provide cover to conservative lawmakers from the party's right flank.

"The fact that you're going to have strong conservative voices helping lead this debate is going to be critical to solving it instead of using it as a political wedge," says Rep. Steve Scalise (R) of Louisiana, incoming chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest and most conservative caucus in the House.

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