After Romney's loss, Republican leaders were eager to recover precious ground lost among Hispanic voters in the last two presidential elections, which saw Republican candidates staking out hard line stands on border security and deportation during the primaries in an appeal to the party's activist base.
A post-election autopsy report written by a Republican National Committee task force called on GOP leaders to "embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform" or risk becoming a permanently-hobbled party ruled by an aging, white constituency.
Following last November's election, fielding phone calls in his Richmond-area district, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia listened to countless members of his caucus vent about the need to fix the immigration system in a bid to save the party.
"Very quickly we learned that for a lot of our members, we have to do something about immigration," said a House Republican aide, granted anonymity to speak candidly about the state of immigration reform in the GOP caucus. "Nine months later, and we haven't yet. I think while we still want to do something, that sense of urgency is gone."
Complicating matters, this aide said, are competing imperatives of congressional elections and national ones. In both Democratic and Republican-leaning House districts, the hot political battles are most often waged in primaries rather than general elections. With gerrymandered districts drawn to favor one party or another, self-preservation in Congress increasingly hinges on appealing to the base, general election voters be damned.
"Some of our members are saying, 'I realize it's a national problem, but it's not my problem because my district's not Hispanic,'" the House aide said.
Though the window to pass reform is shrinking by the day, some GOP congressional aides are quietly working with the House Judiciary Committee to draft several smaller pieces of legislation that could "have an opportunity or a chance" to see a vote by late October, said another Republican aide involved in the process.
Pieces of legislation addressing border security, agricultural workers, employment verification, visas for high and low-skilled workers, and a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants could all emerge from the Judiciary Committee and be brought to a full vote in the House, according to the aide said.
"There's a lot going on that people don't see," the aide said.
House negotiations were dealt a blow on Friday, however, when two Texas Republicans, Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson, dropped out of a bipartisan working group on immigration, citing doubts about Obama's willingness to enforce any new laws.
A possible opening
Obama signaled this week that he would be open to what Washington is calling "a piecemeal approach" to immigration reform rather than the comprehensive bill that emerged from the Senate, as long as the proposals are in line with the spirit of what the White House hopes to achieve.
New York Sen. Charles Schumer, one of Democrats who drafted the Senate bill, also said in August he would be open to the House passing a series of smaller bills and then potentially bundling them together in conference, if both parties agree to.
The biggest point of contention between Republicans and Democrats remains a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a move favored by Democrats but long derided as "amnesty" by many conservative Republicans.
Other supporters of a comprehensive immigration overhaul are now open to a smaller approach that at least brings the House and Senate together in conference to hash out their differences before time runs out on the legislative calendar.
"The House doesn't have to pass everything to get it into conference. The end goal is to get something out of the House that pushes this into conference," said John Feinblatt, a policy adviser to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg is co-chair of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of business and political leaders pressing for immigration changes this year.
"There is a window to do it," Feinblatt said. "You could do it after the debt ceiling. You could have a path to do it between then and Thanksgiving."
Publicly at least, Republican legislators in Washington are not projecting the same air of optimism.
Rubio, a likely candidate for his party's presidential nomination in 2016, told the conservative website Newsmax this week that the immigration issue is on the backburner.
"The budget fights are important and Obamacare is incredibly important," he said. "The national debt and the debt limit is going to be incredibly important. Those issues are time sensitive. Immigration's a big issue but these issues are bigger and that's why the focus is on those issues right now."
Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, a native of Puerto Rico and an Republican opponent of the comprehensive Senate bill, made a blunter admission to Univision earlier this month when he said immigration reform might not even be on the table until 2015 -- after next year's midterm elections and in the heat of Republican presidential primary season.
"A lot of us thought that the debate was going to be in October, but now, with the problems that we're having internationally and also here in this country, I don't see how we're going to be able to have this debate until November," Labrador said. "And I really don't know if it will be possible to do it in November."