John Boehner's Job Isn't Going to Get Easier

The GOP conference might be giving the speaker a break now, but immigration reform will test him.

House Speaker John Boehner speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013.
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The government reopened Thursday morning, but House Speaker John Boehner's job won't be getting any easier.

The embattled speaker sympathized with his rank-and-file tea party members up until the last possible moment, bringing a series of bills to the House floor to defund and delay the Affordable Care Act that never stood a chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate and inevitably forced the government to shut its doors for more than two weeks.

[READ: In Ohio, Tea Party Proud of Boehner]

But eventually, with pressure mounting from both sides Boehner caved. And with the help of a united Democratic caucus and 87 GOP moderates, the debt ceiling was raised and the government was back open for business.

While outside tea party groups continue to plot their "divorce" from the Republican Party, many of Boehner's most ardent critics are letting their speaker off the hook.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who voted against the legislation to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government, said Boehner is "100 percent stronger" even though the GOP walked away with little to show for the shutdown drama.

"No one blames him for this," Mulvaney told CNN. "We did not have the votes."

In fact, compared to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who had led the shutdown effort in the Senate, and then failed to deliver on his promises, many House Republicans felt like their speaker looked pretty good.

Boehner gave his conference what it had been rallying for — a "whale of a fight" against Obamacare,

Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., who had been the sponsor of several of the bills that led to the shutdown, applauded his fellow conservatives for keeping Obamacare in the news.

"Although the bill being advanced today is a disappointment, Republicans have an opportunity to reset the debate over the next few months. As the nation's attention turns from Washington politics to the Obamacare disaster," Graves said in a statement.

Americans for Tax Reform founder Grover Norquist says that the House's "hell no" caucus seems to be rallying around their speaker, not running from him in the wake of a two week shutdown.

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"They were all very high on Boehner," Norquist said after talking to a handful of members following a vote Wednesday.

Members handed Boehner a standing ovation during a conference meeting and one member, who Norquist would not name, gave the speaker a hug.

"I don't know if he was on a listening tour, but people who you would have thought were critics or ultra conservatives were all singing his praises as a leader," Norquist says.

The moment could be fleeting as the speaker will soon be at a new crossroads.

In 90 days, the country faces another government shutdown and in 130 days, the country will once again have to raise the debt ceiling.

And aside from the fiscal laundry list, Boehner will once again face pressure to take up a more expansive list of domestic policies.

President Barack Obama is pushing now for a farm bill, immigration reform and a broader budget deal.

[MORE: John Boehner's Tough Choice]

Boehner, once again will be faced with the tough decision of bringing a bill to the floor that can pass without a majority of his caucus or bringing something to the floor that will never have a shot at being passed in the Democratic-controlled Senate and signed into law.

Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action, a conservative campaign group, says Boehner came out of the budget fights as a stronger leader, but could risk his goodwill by hammering his caucus for an immigration bill.

"Republicans need to be focused on Obamacare, spending, and entitlements. There are plenty of big issues out there," says Holler. "Immigration reform distracts from that in a big way. It is terribly decisive within the party and it is terrible policy on top of that. If your goal is figuring out how to protect the American people from Obamacare, going and moving an immigration bill takes the focus off of that."

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