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Freedom Caucus Wants to Delay Farm Bill for Immigration Votes

Meadows says more than enough conservatives prepared to block passage of farm bill

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and members of his hard-line conservative group want floor action on immigration before the House finishes the farm bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and members of his hard-line conservative group want floor action on immigration before the House finishes the farm bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 9:25 p.m. | House Freedom Caucus members continued to hold the farm bill hostage to their demand for a floor vote on immigration late into Thursday evening, less than 24 hours before a scheduled vote on final passage on the farm bill. 

Republican leaders appear to need the caucus members’ support to pass the farm bill, which is opposed by most Democrats and some GOP moderates. 

The Freedom Caucus met Thursday afternoon and decided they wanted GOP leaders to schedule a floor vote on immigration legislation before completing work on the farm bill. Rep. Mark Meadows, the group’s chairman, told reporters after the meeting that the vast majority of caucus members feel that way and he believes there’s “more than enough” to block passage of the farm bill.

“At this point we were not able to convince any of our members to go from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ on the farm bill,” the North Carolina Republican said. “And so we will have further discussions tonight with leadership, but at this point there is no deal.”

Those discussions continued around 6:30 p.m. Thursday as Freedom Caucus members met with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and a handful of moderate Republicans pushing a discharge petition with the goal of getting immigration legislation to the floor. The conservatives and moderates have different ideas about what should be part of an immigration bill but both share the goal of wanting the House to finally act the issue. 

After about half an hour of talking in his office, McCarthy and the Freedom Caucus members moved upstairs to continue conversations with Speaker Paul D. Ryan and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise

That meeting ended about 45 minutes later with neither leadership nor the Freedom Caucus announcing a breakthrough. 

“We’re making a lot of headway,” Scalise said. 

McCarthy said the leadership team had a “good conversation” with the Freedom Caucus members and reiterated his intention to move immigration legislation on the floor in June. The California Republican later released Friday’s floor schedule, which still included final passage of the farm bill.

Freedom Caucus members leaving the meeting — including Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Ted Yoho of Florida, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Morgan Griffith of Virginia — said their group would have a conference call later Thursday night to discuss their options.

“The element right now is just trying to figure out where we’re going to be in terms of tomorrow’s vote,” Meadows said. “I think everybody’s trying to get to ‘yes,’ but everybody’s trying to figure out what we’re going to do on immigration as well.”

Earlier in the day, Meadows had said that while the Freedom Caucus does have some concerns about the farm bill, most of its members are willing to get to “yes” if a deal is reached on immigration votes.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll bring up bills on immigration first so that we can have those real discussions about what’s in it and what’s not in it before we have to move on to the farm bill,” the North Carolina Republican said after his group’s afternoon meeting. 

“We don’t have an impending deadline for the farm bill,” Meadows added. “Honestly, it doesn’t expire until September. I can tell you my farmers want us to deal with immigration and the farm bill, both.”

Freedom Caucus members feel they’ve been burned in the past by leadership agreeing to schedule votes on legislation —such as a conservative immigration bill by House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte — and then not following through. But Meadows said their current position isn’t based on not trusting leadership to follow through on any deal they’d be able to reach.

“This is not anything about trust,” he said. “This is just about the process. This is literally the last must-pass piece of legislation that we have between now and the spending bill that will come up in October.”

Meadows said his members are willing to stay overnight and through the weekend to get an agreement on immigration legislation.

“I came out of a meeting with moderates and [Republican Study Committee] members today, and I think we are extremely close on finding a bill that gets to 218, actually could get to 270, maybe even 300 votes in the House and send it over to the Senate,” he said.

The emerging framework for an immigration deal Thursday afternoon seemed to involve a vote on two bills, the Goodlatte bill that a majority of House Republicans support and a second bill still being negotiated that could draw enough moderate Republicans and Democrats to pass.

Meadows said after the evening meeting with leadership that multiple paths forward were still on the table but his preference is to start with the Goodlatte bill.

“I think there are some of us who, even with the Goodlatte bill, believe a slight amendment here or there may get us to 218,” he said.

Leadership has agreed to hold a vote on the Goodlatte bill, McCarthy confirmed, but he deflected questions about whether a second bill was under negotiation. 

Even with the Goodlatte bill, there are still a lot of details to work out “in terms of what does that vote look like; when is that vote scheduled; if that vote fails, where do we go from there?” Meadows said. 

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