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Farm bill fails in U.S. House as immigration spat roils Republican Party

By Amanda Becker and Susan Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Amanda Becker and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives rejected a sweeping $867 billion farm bill on Friday after Republican leaders failed to appease conservative lawmakers who had asked them not to hold the vote until they were given the chance to consider a bill to clamp down on immigration.

The next steps are unclear for the farm bill, which failed in a 198-to-213 vote.

The farm bill's passage through the House has been entangled in the debate over immigration, as the conservative House Freedom Caucus sought to pre-empt a move by moderate Republicans and Democrats to use procedural tactics to force a wide-ranging immigration debate on the House floor.

Freedom Caucus lawmakers warned Republican leaders on Thursday that they should delay the farm bill vote until they were given the chance to debate and vote on a conservative immigration bill.

The farm bill's failure is an embarrassment for House Republican leaders. They are trying to stave off the broader immigration debate sought by moderates, which would include a vote on a bipartisan bill that falls well short of demands from conservative Republicans and President Donald Trump.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy were seen on the floor of the chamber negotiating with Freedom Caucus lawmakers as the farm bill vote was under way.

"This is all the more disappointing because we offered the vote these members were looking for, but they still chose to take the bill down," Ryan spokesman Doug Andres said of the Freedom Caucus' immigration demand.

But Representative Mark Meadows, head of the Freedom Caucus, told reporters that leadership had offered them a vote on the conservative immigration bill months ago and that their latest offers had not been "fully clear."

"Unfortunately too many of our members have been left standing at the altar too many times with those kinds of promises," said Representative Scott Perry, a Freedom Caucus member.

FOOD STAMPS

Meadows told reporters after the vote that the farm bill's failure was likely temporary. "It's not a fatal blow, it's just a reorganize," he said.

Representative Dennis Ross, a member of Republican whip team, said he thought the farm bill would be back on the House floor next week.

But, while some of the Freedom Caucus' roughly 30 members voted against the farm bill over their immigration demand, a handful of moderate Republicans also joined Democrats to oppose the bill. The moderates disliked changes it would make to a food stamps program used by about 40 million Americans, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The farm bill, as written by House Agriculture Committee Republicans, would impose stricter work requirements on millions of food stamp recipients.

Democrats were adamantly opposed to those requirements, and said if they are changed now, a bipartisan farm bill would be possible.

"If they will listen to me, I can deliver a lot of Democrats for this bill," said Representative Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.

Even if the House passes a farm bill with the food stamp work requirements in place, they are unlikely to end up in a version being written by the Senate's agriculture committee. Senate leaders have said the House SNAP proposals could not pass that chamber, where Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority and passing most legislation requires 60 votes.

(Reporting By Amanda Becker; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)