Let the Games Begin: Republicans Begin Fight Over Convention Rules
Policy + Politics

Let the Games Begin: Republicans Begin Fight Over Convention Rules

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The leadership of the Republican National Committee would seem to have enough trouble on its hands these days, what with the frontrunner for the party’s nomination accusing it of rigging the selection of delegates to its nominating convention. But now, the head of its powerful Rules Committee has attacked the committee for what he’s calling a “major breach of trust,” virtually assuring the party of an ugly public spat in later this week.

Rules Committee Chair Bruce Ash, in an email reported by the Associated Press, ripped into the RNC leadership for its decision to block consideration of a proposal by committee member Solomon Yue of Oregon to have the convention operate under Robert’s Rules of Order rather than the rules of the House of Representatives at the party’s spring meeting this week.

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The dispute is a bit complex. The Rules Committee will meet the week before the GOP’s convention in July to establish the procedures governing things like who can be nominated, what delegates will be credentialed, and the like. What Yue, and now Ash, are exercised about is the set of parliamentary rules that will be in place for floor proceedings.

Traditionally, floor activity at the convention has been governed by the extremely complex rules of the House of Representatives, which grant a lot of power to the chair -- expected to be House Speaker Paul Ryan. However, given the controversy surrounding this year’s election -- and frontrunner Donald Trump’s insistence that the party is conspiring to block his nomination -- Yue proposed the switch to Robert’s Rules, which not only restrict the authority of the chair, but will also be familiar to many participants at the convention because of their wide use in local and state-level government.

But there is also an obvious ulterior motive to the proposed change. Under Robert’s Rules, the chair of the convention would be barred from reopening debate about the convention’s procedures once it has begun. The House rules would allow Ryan to move to change the way the convention operates, perhaps allowing the nomination of a candidate other than the three men currently contesting state primaries.

Over the weekend, RNC chair Reince Priebus said in an appearance on CNN that he was reluctant to have the party consider Yue’s proposed change this week, arguing that in such a politicized climate, it would look as though the party’s elites were trying to influence the decision of the Rules Committee.

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“I don’t think that it’s a good idea for us next week, I mean, before the convention to make serious rules changes or recommendations of changes right now,” he said, adding, “It’s up to the delegates at the convention…. So the recommendations, I think, just confuse people. I think it’s a bad idea. And the environment, I think, is not conducive to that.”

But Rules Committee chair Ash was having none of it. Like many in the party, he appears concerned that the RNC leadership is unhappy with the choice it is facing between billionaire Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“It became apparent to me during the discussions with Reince and others at the RNC that there might be an underlying political result that adherence to the House Rules achieved--and that Roberts made more difficult: Reopening the nominations for President during the balloting to permit a more acceptable candidate to be nominated other than Donald Trump or Ted Cruz,” Ash wrote in the email uncovered by the AP.

He went on to insist that the proposal be given “priority” consideration this week, which virtually assures that in the GOP’s ongoing family feud, things are going to get worse before they get better.