Immigration Furor Flares in Farm Bill Fight

Tempers are flaring over immigration in the House of Representatives, and on Friday, the vitriol over the issue reached a new level.

With the farm bill pending, members of the House Freedom Caucus (HFC), led by Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) engaged in a high-stakes negotiation with House Republican leadership, attempting to trade their support for the farm bill for a concurrent vote on a border security bill.

The legislation, known colloquially as the Goodlatte bill, provides temporary work authorizations for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program while ending family-based chain migration and authorizing the president’s wall at the southern border. Since the bill was introduced in January, Republican leadership has refused to bring it to the floor, despite its significant support within the Republican conference.

On Friday, the HFC had had enough. Unless House leadership brought the border security bill to the floor that day, the group made clear they would withhold their critical support from the farm bill.

Republican leadership scoffed and called their bluff. The HFC’s bluff was good. Down went the farm bill.

Though the farm bill was the centerpiece of the action, agricultural policy has nothing to do with the voting down of this bill which, instead, has everything to do with the simmering levels of frustration at the GOP leadership’s refusal to deal with the issue of immigration.

As I wrote last week, this lack of action—worse still, an apparent lack of conviction to a bold and principled policy—has prompted moderate Republicans to join with Democrats in an effort to force four immigration votes in the House. As of Friday, they are just five signatures shy from initiating a strategy that is designed to pass the DREAM Act; or, in other words, designed to pass a giant amnesty bill on Republicans’ watch.

That this renegade group of moderate Republicans are so close to giving Democrats the keys to the floor in a Republican House speaks to just how deeply frustrations run in the Republican conference regarding their leadership’s unwillingness to bring an immigration bill to the floor.

So, too, does the immunity of rank-and-file Republicans to their leadership’s pleas to oppose the discharge petition. Even after a closed-door conference meeting where Ryan and McCarthy made the case against the strategy, two more Republicans ignored their appeals and added their names.

All of this leads to two obvious conclusions. The first is that Republican leadership is prioritizing the needs of their moderate members above the needs of those committed to strong borders, as well as the agenda of the president. President Trump has made it clear that he supports the Goodlatte bill for its strong border security provisions. So, too, does a significant portion of the conference.

Yet the GOP leadership intentionally has slow-walked the measure, allegedly whipping support for it, while in fact doing very little. As Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) put it in February, there is a distinct lack of “oomph.”

Moreover, a leadership that brings the hammer down on border hawks who step out of line in far lesser ways has taken no steps toward punishing their moderates for potentially forcing an amnesty vote. The leadership politely has asked the moderates to “please stop,” but hasn’t come close to threatening fundraising opportunities, committee chairmanships, or any of the various tactics used against immigration restrictionists. Indeed, Paul Ryan publicly has campaigned for Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), the member leading the amnesty effort.

Second, and more broadly concerning, is the leadership vacuum that exists in the House when it comes to the issue of immigration. The leadership’s refusal to put a strong border security bill on the floor, much less break any arms to pass it, has emboldened the moderates and Democrats to push this amnesty-drive discharge petition to near success.

In demanding a vote on the Goodlatte border security bill, the HFC was attempting to fill the leadership void left by McCarthy and Ryan. Their solution not only would have given good policy a chance to succeed, it would have rejuvenated the voters who are dying for Republicans to stand up and fight, pleased the president with a solution to DACA, and given Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) a chance to prove that he is up to the task of speaker.

None of these things happened.

Instead, the House is now short a farm bill. No concessions have been made to the will of the House to address immigration. And the discharge petition—and its associated threat of amnesty—looms even larger.

The House Republican leadership has very little time to get this right, and the stakes could not be higher for the party, or for the race for speaker.

In being part of a team that thus far has failed in spectacular fashion to address this issue, McCarthy is substantially weakened, even more so after the very public miscalculation on the farm bill. If his bid for speaker has any chance of surviving, he cannot sustain these continued flops.

Moreover, McCarthy, once again, has been out-foxed by his more right-of-center dark-horse candidate for speaker, Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). Jordan and the HFC have again proven their commitment to issues that the voters care about, and with a strategy as simple as “doing what we said we would do.”

The House Republican leadership has one specific task in the coming weeks: to hold their conference together and oppose amnesty. To that end, they should bring the Goodlatte border security bill to the floor and stay on it until it passes the House. Should they fail, or yet again pivot to promises they have no intention of keeping, Friday’s showdown will merely be a prelude to the more dramatic confrontations that are to come.

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About Rachel Bovard

Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute and Senior Advisor to the Internet Accountability Project. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters. In the House, she worked as senior legislative assistant to Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-Il.), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas). She is the former director of policy services for the Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelBovard.