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Immigration fight threatens GOP farm bill

Immigration fight threatens GOP farm bill
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A fierce immigration fight among Republicans is threatening to derail the GOP farm bill, just hours before the legislation is scheduled to reach the House floor. 

The Freedom Caucus, a band of roughly 30 conservative hard-liners, claims to have enough votes to block the farm bill unless Republican leaders agree to schedule a vote on a separate immigration measure from Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFusion GPS co-founder pleads the Fifth following House GOP subpoena House Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein Fusion GPS co-founder will invoke 'constitutional rights not to testify': lawyers MORE (R-Va.).

The “vast majority” of the caucus wants to vote on the Goodlatte bill before they agree to back the farm legislation, according to Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFusion GPS co-founder pleads the Fifth in Congress, attorney cries McCarthyism Fusion GPS co-founder pleads the Fifth following House GOP subpoena Trump makes new overtures to Democrats MORE (R-N.C.).

The push comes at a time when a group of moderate Republicans are moving ahead with a discharge petition aimed at forcing a series of immigration votes on the House floor.

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“We don’t have an agreement,” Meadows said Thursday. “We’ve been promised many, many months ago we would have a vote on Goodlatte. And we think it’s important that we have a vote on Goodlatte, and at this point we have not been able to convince any of our members to go from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ [on the farm bill]. … At this point there is no deal to be made.”

But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he has already assured members of the Freedom Caucus that the Goodlatte legislation will reach the House floor in June.

“I've already told them we're going to give them a vote on Goodlatte, so I don't understand the difficulty," McCarthy told reporters. 

As of Thursday evening, GOP leaders were still pushing ahead with a planned Friday vote on the farm bill, even though the whip count remains in question.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayLawmakers fail to pass annual intel bill after key Dem objects House Intel votes to release Russia transcripts Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems MORE (R-Texas) told reporters earlier on Thursday that they were still shy of the votes they need to pass the legislation. 

“Debate’s moving forward, but still working member to member to get all the votes we need to kill the two 'poison pill' amendments and get a final passage,” Conaway said. 

Trump has endorsed the measure, calling it a “strong" bill.

“Tomorrow, the House will vote on a strong Farm Bill, which includes work requirements. We must support our Nation’s great farmers!” Trump tweeted Thursday.

With nearly all Democrats opposed to the farm bill, GOP leadership has little room for error. The legislation would authorize a number of agriculture and food programs for five years.

The current farm measure doesn’t expire until Sept. 30, but GOP leadership has been eager to pass the legislation because it revamps the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.

The farm bill is a legacy item for retiring Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP GOP group makes late play in Iowa seat once seen as lost Adelsons donated M in September to help GOP in midterms MORE (R-Wis.), who has pushed welfare reforms during his career in Congress. The bill would impose strict work requirements for “able-bodied” adults who receive food stamps.

The bill’s changes to food stamps would be the first concrete legislative steps this year targeting the nation’s public assistance programs, an important goal for GOP leaders that Ryan emphasized on Thursday. 

“This is going to get more people out of poverty, this is going to help people get a steady job,” Ryan told reporters. “I am very pleased that we are moving forward with this phase of the Better Way agenda. This was a core component of what we told the country we would do, and here we are.”

But some moderate Republicans were uneasy about how strict the work requirements would be. Given the Freedom Caucus holdouts, it was not clear early Thursday evening whether Republican leaders would have the votes needed to pass the bill. 

Rep. Leonard LanceLeonard LanceGOP strategist says Republican candidates are 'all over the map' on immigration Money can’t buy happiness or elections, but it makes life easier Dems see blue 'tsunami' in House as Senate path narrows MORE (R-N.J.) told The Hill he would oppose the legislation, citing a provision that would exempt food stamp recipients with children under the age of six from the work requirements. He said that age "is a little too low" for him; the law now says people with children under age 18 are exempt.

“I will not be voting for the farm bill,” Lance said.

There are other contentious items that could sink the farm bill. 

The Republican conference has also been fighting over the bill’s federal sugar support program, which aims to keep sugar prices high by imposing restrictions on sugar imports and controlling how much sugar is produced in the U.S. 

The House on Thursday night defeated a sugar reform amendment from Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) that some lawmakers had labeled a "poison pill."

The provision would have given the Agriculture secretary more flexibility to allow sugar imports and ensure taxpayers don’t foot the bill for bailouts of the sugar industry.

“We’re going to kill it,” Conaway said earlier on Thursday. “It’s a poison pill, we have to kill it.”