Firestorm brewing over GOP convention rules

Firestorm brewing over GOP convention rules
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HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The Republican National Committee (RNC) Rules Committee meets here on Thursday amid calls for changes to convention rules that could make it easier for a new Republican presidential candidate to emerge to take on Donald TrumpDonald TrumpIran's leader vows 'revenge,' posting an image resembling Trump Former Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' Justice Dept. to probe sudden departure of US attorney in Atlanta after Trump criticism MORE and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFor Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief Senate Democrats file ethics complaint against Hawley, Cruz over Capitol attack Poll: Majority of voters support bipartisan commission to probe potential irregularities in the 2020 election MORE.

Discussion of the rules has created a political firestorm, with Trump, the GOP front-runner, accusing the RNC for rigging the nomination process against him.


Members of the obscure committee itself have been pulled into the fray, bickering in public over whether the rules should be altered.

Solomon Yue, an Oregon national committeeman and senior Rules Committee member, has clashed with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus over the chairman’s unwillingness to consider new rules.

In an interview ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Yue told The Hill he’s heard that allies of Priebus, namely RNC chief counsel John Ryder, are organizing a resistance to Yue’s proposed rules change that could restrict the possibility of nominating a candidate who has not been in the race, known as a “white knight.”

“I grew up in communist China; I came to this country for freedom. Back home there is no dissenting voice, period. My parents were told by the government that if I can’t keep my mouth shut that they would make me disappear in the night,” he told The Hill.

“I come here to this party, and guess what: Now I find myself become subjected because of my dissenting voice. … When a council’s office systematically tries to crush a dissenting voice, we have institutional tyranny.” 

In a statement, an RNC spokesperson emphasized Priebus's push to not take up any rules changes now out of a hope to ensure the party remains neutral and doesn’t appear to be pulling the strings.

"The Chairman has been and will continue to make the case to RNC members that the rules of the convention should be decided by the delegates elected by Republican grassroots voters," the statement said.

"When the RNC meets this week he will urge that the RNC not make recommendations that would change the convention.”

During any other year, the committee’s work goes largely unnoticed — most people aren’t exactly interested in dry party minutia — but a contested convention in July is the only realistic pathway for the anti-Trump forces within the party, so the debate over the rules that could govern the chaotic floor fight to come has brought the spotlight to the Sunshine State.

Yue’s proposal is likely to be one of the major flashpoints this week at the four-star Diplomat Resort & Spa overlooking the Atlantic Ocean just south of Ft. Lauderdale.

His change would throw out the complex convention rulebook based on the U.S. House rules in favor of a simpler set of rules. Called Robert’s Rules of Order, it’s the preferred rulebook of most government meetings, including at the state and local party level.

Yue, who says he is remaining neutral in the nomination fight, argues the chief benefit of the switch is that it cedes more power to the average delegate, who may not be steeped in House parliamentary procedure.

The change would also only allow a “white knight” candidate to be added to the nominating slate with the backing of a majority of the delegates, a tough climb considering most will likely back either Cruz or Trump. Yue said that under the current rules, the convention chairman holds the power to bring up nominations for a vote. 

That flies in the face of Priebus’s repeated insistence that to maintain neutrality, the Rules Committee should not toy with any of the convention rules this week. 

Any changes that would be made could easily be changed once the convention in Cleveland gets underway. 

The RNC’s Standing Rules Committee, which meets on Thursday, effectively makes recommendations, which the convention’s Rules Committee ultimately can accept or reject.

So since Yue’s rule change would have a direct implication on the nominating process that controls which candidates will even be eligible to win a contested convention, Priebus and his allies don’t believe it’s worth an ugly rules battle now for an outcome that wouldn’t be set in stone.

Many delegates, including Peter Feaman, a Florida committeeman and standing Rules Committee member, back Priebus. 

“The RNC has been accused over and over again of trying to meddle with the convention process. And so we have no intention of feeding that false narrative,” he told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. 

Morton Blackwell, a longtime Rules Committee member and committeeman from Virginia, told The Hill he believes Yue has been “ill treated” because the establishment “panicked” at the notion of Trump and Cruz being the most likely candidates to win the nomination.

But he said Priebus is likely to win the battle because the majority of the Standing Rules Committee will follow his lead.

Ed Cox, the New York state chairman fresh off of his state’s Tuesday primary, agreed with Priebus’s stance.

“Chairman Priebus wants it to be up to the delegate Rules Committee, not the RNC Rules Committee, to decide the rules,” he said to reporters in Florida.

“That’s the right thing to do for the convention rules, so that’s the way I think it will work out.”

But in Yue’s mind, refusing to hear out the rules change could have its own consequences. Since the change requires tossing out the old rulebook, he said he fears his opponents could argue at the convention that there isn’t enough time to implement it and simply punt.

And further, he’s still concerned about keeping the door open for a white knight.

“If there is a true deadlock, then the grassroots and the majority of the delegates should decide,” Yue said.

“Not changing is actually politicking and keeps the option to parachute a white knight alive.”

The rules battle will likely be one of the major flashpoints during the remaining two days in Florida, but it’s not the only battle playing out in the state.

Representatives from all three Republican campaigns are holding private meetings with RNC delegates to pitch their general election strength, with Cruz and John Kasich personally coming to make the sale. Trump’s campaign will also have aides on hand to help smooth things over with the very delegates he hopes will make him the nominee.

Cruz was the first to hit the hotel, hours after top aides, including campaign manager Jeff Roe and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, made their appeal to the delegates.

“We are headed towards a contested convention. Nobody is able to reach 1,237,” Cruz told reporters of reaching the delegate threshold to lock up the nomination on the first ballot.

“We are going to arrive in Cleveland with me having a ton of delegates and Donald having a ton of delegates. And at that point, it becomes a battle of who can earn the support of a majority of delegates elected by the people. I believe we will have a tremendous advantage in that battle.”

--This report was updated on April 21 at 7:33 a.m.