Pelosi: Farm bill does not portend immigration's fate

The surprise failure of the farm bill last week is not a bad omen for immigration reform, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted Thursday.

The Democratic leader said the two issues are entirely separate and will be treated as such.

"The farm bill was a bad sign for what happened on the farm bill," Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "Every day is a new day here in terms of the legislation and what the public demand for legislation is."

The farm bill's defeat last Thursday startled supporters and left many lawmakers concerned that the vote augured badly for the immigration debate.


GOP leaders had allowed several conservative amendments to the farm bill in the hopes of attracting more Republican support. Instead, 62 Republicans opposed the final bill and the rightward shift scared away on-the-fence Democrats.

The measure failed 195-234.

Pelosi said she is optimistic that immigration reform will fare better, and was quick to endorse the comprehensive draft bill being floated by a bipartisan group of seven House lawmakers. She characterized that package as "a compromise ... we can all support," saying it contains "poison pills" that Democrats oppose, but those provisions are "not lethal."

"I would hope that would be given some respect in the Republican caucus, because as I said it's a bipartisan product ... [and] many of the provisions in the bill are their provisions," she said.

Still, that package has been stalled for weeks, and the lack of progress has left opened some space through which more conservative Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have pushed their more partisan, piecemeal approach to immigration reform, a security-heavy effort that many Democrats oppose.

Pelosi on Thursday was noncommittal about the Judiciary panel's bills.

"Some of them are unacceptable, but on the other hand, let's put it together," she said. "If the Speaker wants to have a House bill, I fully share that sentiment."

But Pelosi also warned that Democrats are not ready to vote for just anything in order to move the process to a conference with the Senate. She noted that there are Republicans who will oppose immigration reform on principle "and therefore they need Democratic votes."

"We know it has to be a compromise. We know who's in the majority," she said. "But if you want our votes, it has to be something that our members can vote for."

Much of the focus of the immigration debate has been on a proposed pathway to citizenship, but Pelosi singled out another provision as "critical to going to conference."

That provision — included in the comprehensive House draft, she said — would attach fees to the visas given to high-skilled foreign workers coming to the United States with the stipulation that the funds be used to train American workers in those same fields.

"Certainly we want to attract more high-skilled workers, but we know we have the talent in the U.S.," she said. "This bill affords us the opportunity to do both.

"I would hope that they would retain that aspect of the bipartisan proposal in the House to go to the Senate," she added. "Whatever else it has, that's a matter of discussion and a matter of what can pass on the floor of the House. But that would be a very important part of it."