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A pocket of House Republicans killed a GOP farm bill championed by the party's leaders Friday. But Republican leaders' headaches caused by rebellion within the party may only have begun.
The hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus sought assurances that the House would vote on a tough immigration plan in exchange for their votes on the farm bill, but it did not get them. Thirty House Republicans then broke with party leaders to oppose the legislation. With all Democrats voting against the plan and some members not voting, the measure sank by a 198 to 213 vote.
The backlash from the party's conservative wing comes at a terrible time for House Speaker Paul Ryan and top Republicans. The jab from the conservatives coincides with hits Republican leaders have taken from the party's moderate flank over immigration.
Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and others already oppose a push by centrist GOP lawmakers to force a vote on a plan to shield young undocumented immigrants from deportation.The effort has gained steam over the objection of House leaders, who caution that Republicans should pass an immigration plan President Donald Trump will support. The president has backed restrictions on legal immigration in exchange for protecting the young immigrants, the so-called Dreamers. Democrats and many moderate Republicans consider that deal unacceptable.
Despite objections from powerful Republicans, centrist GOP lawmakers need only a handful more signatures on a petition to force a vote on immigration policy, assuming all Democrats get on board, as expected. The success of the Freedom Caucus' rebellion will likely only turbocharge the efforts to subvert House GOP leaders on immigration policy as lawmakers recognize the leverage they have.
The GOP's Chief Deputy Whip, Rep. Patrick McHenry, said as much following the farm bill's failure on Friday, according to NBC News.
It will be "probably hours" before more Republican lawmakers sign on to the petition, the North Carolina Republican said. More momentum for the centrist lawmakers' effort "is exactly what I feared if the farm bill went down," McHenry added.
The pressure from two of the GOP's ideological flanks puts party leaders in a precarious spot. The Freedom Caucus lawmakers' immigration goals align more closely with Trump's demands that moderate Republicans appear unwilling to accept.
Appeasing one pocket of the Republican caucus likely would mean alienating another. On top of that, it is unclear if top Republicans even want to revisit immigration — a politically charged issue — as they try to hold off a Democratic push and keep control of the House after November's midterm elections.
Some Republicans worry that seeking a bipartisan immigration deal months before the midterms would suppress enthusiasm from the Republican base, which largely responds well to figures such as Trump who pledge to crack down on immigration. McCarthy — who needs to keep all of his caucus happy as he tries to succeed Ryan as House GOP leader — believes such an agreement could hurt Republicans, according to a Politico report.
"If you want to depress [GOP voter] intensity, this is the No. 1 way to do it," the California Republican told fellow lawmakers this week, according to the report.
McCarthy and Ryan have taken different stances on the issue, the news outlet reported. Ryan, who has long talked about wanting to protect the young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, hopes he can pass a bill to do so before he leaves Congress in January. He wants to do so in part for his legacy, Politico said, citing a leadership source.
When Ryan and McCarthy met with Trump this week to discuss how to proceed on immigration amid the moderates' push, the president appeared uninterested in starting talks again, according to Politico, which cited several sources briefed on the meeting. He called the petition the House's problem.
Ryan has repeatedly said he wants to pass only immigration legislation that the president would sign. That leaves Republicans in a difficult spot, trying to appease two emboldened pockets of their party with diverging interests only months before critical elections.
It is unclear whether the House would bring up a series of varying immigration bills and let lawmakers decide which they prefer, as the Senate did last year. Three different plans to codify protections for young immigrants failed in the Senate earlier this year.