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Another defeat for Trump in Congress as GOP infighting scuttles farm bill

President Donald Trump speaks at the White House on Friday during a Prison Reform Summit.
(Susan Walsh / AP Photo)

In a major political setback, House Republicans failed on Friday to pass an $867-billion farm bill that aimed to impose strict new work requirements for food stamp recipients.

Conservatives refused to support the measure unless House leaders agreed to hold a vote immediately on a separate immigration bill.

The unraveling of the farm measure on the House floor was an embarrassment for GOP leaders, who had expressed confidence that they could pass the traditionally bipartisan farm bill without the support of Democrats. The new restrictions on food stamp aid, which threaten to expel millions of recipients from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, had driven Democrats to oppose the measure.

The bill failed 198-213.

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The rebellion of the conservative House Freedom Caucus signaled renewed fissures within the GOP as midterm congressional elections approach.

It was also a setback for President Trump, who had crusaded for the farm bill, rallying for it on Thursday in a tweet that lauded the measure’s work requirements.

House Democrats erupted in cheers when the measure failed.

“Republicans wrote a cruel, destructive farm bill that abandoned farmers and producers amid plummeting farm prices and the self-inflicted damage of President Trump’s trade brinkmanship,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said in a statement following the vote. “Their heartless bill would have slashed $23 billion in SNAP benefits for children, seniors, students, 1.5 million veterans, 23,000 servicemembers, individuals with disabilities and working families.”

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She called for the GOP to return to the tradition of crafting a bipartisan farm bill that Democrats could support.

Members of the Freedom Caucus broke with leadership on the bill over their demands that the House take up their immigration and border security bills. The conservatives said they would not cast votes for the farm bill unless lawmakers were also given an opportunity now to vote on a restrictive immigration measure that is backed by them and Trump.

House leaders demurred, offering instead to call a vote on the immigration bill in June.

The flareup comes amid growing political discord among Republicans over immigration as November elections approach. Party leadership has been scrambling to keep immigration from dominating discussion in Congress, fearful that it will hurt GOP chances to hold on to power in the House. But restive members of the rank and file are eager to have the debate now, and they are engaged in parliamentary maneuvering that promises to bring the issue front and center in Congress.

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As tea party members push their immigration measures, a group of moderate Republicans is quickly gaining support for a separate effort to force a vote on four immigration bills that include new paths to citizenship for so-called Dreamers. They are working with Democrats to advance the proposals to a floor vote over the objections of GOP leaders.

The unravelling of the farm bill Friday makes it more likely that the GOP leadership will be unable to stop an open floor debate on immigration measures.

Republicans in the meantime are vowing they will get a five-year farm bill measure passed by the end of September, when the existing farm bill expires. “We may be down, but we are not out,” said a statement from House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican. “We will deliver a strong, new farm bill on time as the president of the United States has called on us to do.”

Staff writer Sarah D. Wire contributed to this report.

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evan.halper@latimes.com

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