(CBS News) House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday said "it would be difficult at best" to pass Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's version of the DREAM Act in Congress, lowering expectations for a policy proposal some have said could help the GOP make inroads with Latinos.
"There's always hope," Boehner told reporters, adding that he spoke with Rubio about the proposal and "found it of interest."
"But the problem with this issue is that we're operating in a very hostile political environment," the GOP leader said. "And to deal with a very difficult issue like this, I think it would be difficult at best."
Latino voters very reliably vote Democratic, but as the voting bloc grows in size and influence, some Republicans have expressed interest in doing more to reach out to Latinos. In a closed-door meeting with supporters recently, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the GOP should support some version of Rubio's plan, though publicly, Romneyon the measure.
The DREAM Act, as proposed by Democrats, would offer upstanding youths who were brought into the United States illegally a way to earn legal status. Versions of the bill have floated through Congress for years. Democrats were pushing a version of the bill in 2010, but Republicans in the Senate managed to kill it with a filibuster.
Rubio, a Cuban American considered a rising star in the GOP, has proposed a scaled-back version that would offer non-immigrant visas to qualified young undocumented immigrants that would allow them to eventually apply for citizenship.
While Boehner played down the bill's prospects, he blamed inaction on immigration on President Obama, who backed the Democratic version of the DREAM Act.
"When the president of the United States runs around the country doing speeches -- he's done a couple of speeches over the last 15 months about immigration," he said. "As a matter of fact, over the last three years, he's done a number of speeches about immigration. Where's the president's immigration plan? Where does the president stand on this issue? Instead of campaigning all the time, maybe he ought to come back to Washington and go to work."
When asked today about Rubio's version of the DREAM Act, White House spokesman Jay Carney pointed out that Rubio's proposal hasn't been introduced as legislation. He said, however, that the president is ready to work with anyone on the issue.
"Now, if Republicans are ready to recognize that we can work together on this issue and if they want to start with the DREAM Act and give young people who have been raised as Americans a path to citizenship so they can serve in our military, put their talent to work in our schools, work in our labs and start businesses, then we should do that," he said.
Carney said the legislation should give qualified youths "a rigorous and thorough process to get right with the law, but one that provides a pathway to citizenship...That's what makes sense, and the president is ready to sign it into law -- such a bill tomorrow."
Carney blamed the lack of action on Republicans.
"It's important to remember that the only reason the DREAM Act is not law right now, the only reason that comprehensive immigration reform is not law right now is because Republicans have consistently demagogued the issue and blocked action in Congress," he said.