Last week, to appease the border hawks who are making him sweat in his primary race, he ruled out adding the ENLIST Act as an amendment to the big defense bill that the House will be voting on soon. That was curious because it’s common knowledge that Cantor supports ENLIST. If you want to enact it, what better way than to attach it to important legislation that’s guaranteed to pass in order to keep the Pentagon funded? Cantor offered no explanation for his change of heart, but I’m going to go ahead and be cynical by assuming that that primary race and those border hawks had something to do with it.

So that’s the end of ENLIST, right? Not quite:

In an interview with POLITICO, Cantor said he backs the policy merits of the legislation from Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), which would give a path to legal permanent residency for immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

“If you’ve got a kid that was brought here by their parents — unbeknownst to the child — and that they’ve grown up in this country and not known any other, and they want to serve in our military, they ought to be allowed to do that and then have the ability to become a citizen after that kind of service,” Cantor said a brief interview Wednesday evening…

Cantor, who controls the floor schedule, did not rule out a potential standalone vote on the ENLIST Act later this year, saying that the lawmakers involved with the bill are “still working on language” and that “no decisions have been made” on potential floor action…

Liberal activists convened a conference call earlier Wednesday to slam Cantor over immigration. “Eric Cantor is the No. 1 guy standing between the American people and immigration reform,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said on the call, according to the Associated Press.

Translation: Sure, ENLIST is still on the table — just as soon as Cantor’s primary is over and he’s out of danger. That’s why ENLIST is being kept out of the defense bill, not because of any policy or procedural issue but because keeping it live and in play over the last few weeks of the campaign could give Cantor’s challenger, Dave Brat, a shot. Once Cantor and other House Republicans are past the primaries in June, it’s full speed ahead on immigration reform. In fact, Haley Barbour assured HuffPo today that Boehner really is committed to passing something but that “they don’t have the votes today” — emphasis, I suspect, on “today.” Check back in a month, after grassroots conservatives have duly re-nominated all of these guys for another two years, and see if he has the votes then.

ENLIST is actually a (no pun intended) dream vehicle for the GOP to make something happen this year on immigration. If Boehner takes the caucus’s temperature and finds that they’re willing to bite the bullet on comprehensive amnesty, he could pass ENLIST during the lame-duck session, go to conference with the Senate in it, quietly agree with Reid and Schumer to expand ENLIST so that it includes amnesty measures for a broader class of illegals, and then pass that in the House. If, on the other hand, he gets the sense from the caucus that they’ll only tolerate a small immigration measure right now in the name of PR and outreach to Latinos, ENLIST would be perfect, giving sympathetic DREAMers a chance to earn their citizenship by serving in the armed forces. Would Reid and Schumer agree to a standalone ENLIST bill, though? If you’re a Democrat hellbent on comprehensive reform, it’s mighty risky to let Republicans pass a small measure like ENLIST: The GOP might turn around afterward, having (somewhat) achieved its goal of proving its good faith on reform, and decide that they’re not going to pass anything else on amnesty for the rest of Obama’s term. That’s a worst-case scenario for Dems, since it would leave only a small portion of illegals on the citizenship track while giving Republicans something to point to and crow about the next time they’re challenged as do-nothings on amnesty. On the other hand, if Reid and Schumer declare that ENLIST is dead in the Senate, then suddenly they’re the ones who are blocking immigration reform. What’s their play here?

While you mull that over, here’s House conservative Jeb Hensarling giving Boehner and Cantor something to think about by refusing to rule out a run for Speaker next year. Hmmmmm.