An unspecified number of House Freedom Caucus members are looking to leverage their potential support for the farm bill to secure a House vote on a conservative immigration bill, a maneuver they say would kill a discharge petition moderate Republicans have started.
“It was certainly a topic of discussion in trying to figure out what would get people to yes on a farm bill,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said of a vote on the conservative immigration bill by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte. “And I can tell you voting for the Goodlatte bill, whether it passes or is defeated, would move some of our members.”
Meadows, speaking with reporters after the Freedom Caucus’s weekly meeting, declined to say how many conservatives could be swayed to support the farm bill in exchange for a vote on the Goodlatte bill but signaled that it’s enough to provide him with leverage.
“I have to be able to control enough votes to stop it if I’m going to make an offer,” the North Carolina Republican said. “But we’re not trying to stop it. ... We’re not taking a position against the farm bill at this point. We’re looking at what would be the best strategy for getting votes on the farm bill and on immigration.”
The Freedom Caucus is divided on the farm bill, Meadows said, noting that some will be “no” votes and some will be “yes” regardless of what happens with the Goodlatte bill.
“I’m trying to count the people who are no’s or undecided willing to go yes versus just that those that are no-no or yes-yes,” he said.
Meadows said he planned to present his suggestion to leadership later Tuesday night. GOP leaders have been hoping to use the amendment process for the farm bill to secure enough support from members before a planned floor vote on Friday.
“A lot members want to see the amendments,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise said earlier Tuesday when asked if leadership had secured the votes for the farm bill.
Meadows said leadership had committed to the Freedom Caucus during previous negotiations on stopgap funding bills to hold a vote on the Goodlatte bill this Congress. That measure lacks enough support among Republicans to pass but conservatives feel like leadership hasn’t worked it hard enough.
“We realize that the farm bill is being whipped incredibly hard and the Goodlatte bill maybe less so,” Meadows said.
“I think at this point having a vote on Goodlatte this week or next week would be prudent,” he added.
The main reason conservatives are reviving their push for a vote on the Goodlatte bill now is to kill the discharge petition on the queen of the hill rule. The rule by California GOP Rep. Jeff Denham would set up a vote on four immigration bills, with the one getting the most votes above the required simple majority threshold prevailing as the House-passed measure.
When Florida GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo filed the discharge petition on Denham’s rule he attached it to the Goodlatte bill. If there’s a vote on the Goodlatte bill before the discharge petition gets enough signatures and is called up for a vote, it would effectively kill the discharge petition.
“The rule that’s attached now that’s a queen of the hill rule would have to find another vehicle to be attached to in order to be effective, so the clock would start all over again,” Meadows said.
Discharge petitions, once they have the required 218 signatures, can only be called up as a privileged resolution on the second or fourth Monday of the month — so long as it has been at least seven days since the petition was filed.
More votes needed
So far 18 Republicans have signed Curbelo’s discharge petition. At least seven more would need to sign the petition if all Democrats do so for it to be successful. The earliest it could get to the floor is June 25, the next relevant Monday the House is in session.
While the Goodlatte bill is among the four measures that the queen of the hill rule would set up votes on it is expected to fail and a more moderate bipartisan bill from Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., is the one that would likely emerge the winner.
GOP leaders oppose the discharge petition, saying it would give Democrats control over the legislative process and result in a bill that President Donald Trump would veto. But the discharge petition has sparked renewed talk of an immigration deal.
McCarthy said they talked about making sure the border is secure and ending the catch and release program as priorities.
Asked if Republicans were still looking for an end to so-called chain migration and the visa lottery program, McCarthy said, “Those are things we’re looking at now as well.”
One thing that appears non-negotiable for Trump is securing some funding to build a wall along the southern border .
Democrats have been willing to negotiate on that, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said Tuesday, citing a Senate proposal the president threatened to veto that included $25 billion authorization for the wall. However, the Maryland Democrat suggested his party would not agree to provide $25 billion in immediate funding for Trump to use as he sees fit.
“It is something that ought to be looked at on an annual basis by the appropriations committee,” Hoyer said. “Now having said that ... I think that would be something that we certainly could negotiate.”
Watch: Will Any of House Legislative Push Make It to Trump’s Desk?: What You Need to Know