A senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee called its top Republican a racist on Twitter as the normally bipartisan panel was rocked Thursday by feuding over a measure needed to fund farmers’ trade aid payments.

Minutes into a subcommittee hearing, the full committee’s ranking Republican, Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, began chiding House Democrats for considering denying a White House request to replenish the account that the Agriculture Department is using to make the payments. 

“It’s one thing for (Chinese President) Xi Jinping to use our farmers and ranchers in rural America as a weapon against President Trump and those trade negotiations, but it is entirely something else to have the powers of this body be using those same good people as leverage simply because you don’t like President Trump,” Conaway said in his opening statement.

The House Democratic leadership ultimately relented, releasing a continuing resolution Wednesday evening that restored the Commodity Credit Corp.’s $30 billion borrowing authority, as the White House requested. 

But Conaway, a former chairman of the Ag committee, said Democrats should never have allowed it to be considered in the first place. 

“The way the majority has gone about this CR and taking this CCC funding hostage is now using those folks as a weapon,” he added. “Shame on us for allowing that to happen. It should never have happened.”

Peterson sharply defended his caucus’ handling of the issue, and afterward the subcommittee’s chairman, Filemon Vela, D-Texas, launched a broadside on Twitter. 

“Our caucus doesn't need to be lectured by a racist Christian pretender who led the effort to starve America's poor. Every Democratic member of this committee championed the efforts to protect MFP in this week’s CR negotiations,” Vela’s tweet said. 

Vela’s office subsequently issued a statement repeating the tweet and identifying Conaway as the target.

“Conaway was lyin’ in that committee hearing because every single Democratic member in the House Agriculture Committee fought really hard to protect MFP here over the last weekend,” Vela said between afternoon votes.

When asked if the tweet was directed towards Conaway, Vela said “there’s no question about it.”

Conaway hadn’t seen the tweet until reporters showed him.

“A racist Christian, alright,” Conaway sarcastically read aloud. Conaway was then asked if he had any reaction.

“Considering the source, no,” he said, standing by his committee comments.

“All I said was that rural America and production Agriculture has been held hostage or taken as a pawn by Democratic leadership and if that is untrue, I would be happy to have that conversation,” Conaway said.

During the hearing, Peterson said the dispute over CCC spending had roots in the way that Republicans responded to the way that then-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack used the program for disaster payments in 2010. 

After they later took control of the House, Republicans put a provision in successive appropriations bills restricting USDA’s use of the CCC authority. The restriction wasn't lifted until 2018, when the White House was ramping up the trade war with China. 

“This was put in place by the Republican Party,” Peterson said, referring to the GOP-backed restriction on CCC. 

“It was put in place, this restriction, because at that time, the Republicans thought Secretary (Tom) Vilsack was using the CCC to help Blanche Lincoln, who at the time was chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, in her reelection because there was a disaster in Arkansas.”

He went on, “So you guys put it in place,” Peterson barked back. “It wasn’t a single member on this committee — the Ag Committee — who had anything to do with this. Period.” 

Conaway argued that the Republican restriction was different from what Democrats were considering this year because the GOP version didn’t affect the payments that had been made in 2010. 

Story was updated at 3:42 p.m. EDT

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