Obscure lawmaker thwarts Never Trump movement

Obscure lawmaker thwarts Never Trump movement
© Greg Nash

Rep. Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackLawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Rubio asks White House to delay B Pentagon contract over Amazon concerns   New CBO report fuels fight over minimum wage MORE (R-Ark.) played a central role in the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) efforts to quash the Never Trump movement.

As the Republican National Convention's presiding officer, it was Womack's job to decide whether more delegates supported or opposed the party's rules package in a voice vote, where delegates shout either “aye” or “nay” to signify their position. 

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Despite significant shouting from the “nays,” Womack declared the “ayes have it” and pushed the convention forward onto its next procedural vote. 

That drew the ire of a healthy bloc of delegates who booed and shouted, calling on the RNC to allow for a roll call vote instead.

Asked about his role presiding over the emotional moments on the convention floor, Womack smiled and said, “I've been to a few county fairs.”

He also indicated he's not concerned about any potential blowback from Never Trump supporters vowing to cause trouble for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE.

The uproar put the Arkansas lawmaker, whose support for Trump has been far from full-throated, at the center of the push to kill off the Never Trump effort in Cleveland.

Womack endorsed Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTurkey says soldier killed despite cease-fire in Syria White House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours Erdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn MORE (R-Fla.) in the GOP presidential primary, and a spokesperson told an ABC affiliate in Little Rock that he would support "the Republican nominee" but didn't name Trump specifically. 

Delegates opposed to Trump wanted to force the roll call vote to show how divided the GOP is over the man set to accept the party’s presidential nomination later this week.

Insurgent groups needed a majority of delegates in at least seven states to force the roll call vote.

While the Never Trump delegates declared they had 11 states in their corner, Womack told the crowd that enough states had pulled their support from the effort to keep the anti-Trump delegates from reaching their seven-state threshold.

With that, Womack held another voice vote, effectively declared the Never Trump fight dead, and moved on to passing the party's platform. 

The RNC and the Trump campaign had looked to avoid the roll call vote to paint a picture of a unified party around Trump. 

Hours after the ruckus, Womack told The Hill that enough delegates had withdrawn from the challenge to sink that effort. So at the first vote, he said it was clear to him the "ayes" outnumbered the "nays," so he decided to move forward. 

"Part of the chaos was that the floor didn't know it, but I knew it, and the convention handlers knew it," Womack told The Hill in a Monday night interview.

He added that the he left the stage briefly to confer with RNC chairman Reince Priebus, top Donald Trump aide Paul Manafort and the convention's parliamentarian on how to move on. The group ultimately decided to redo the vote to allow Utah Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE to object so that Womack could disclose the lack of valid signatures. 

"I think it could have been a little cleaner had we explained up-front that the threshold for a roll call had not been meant, but that wasn't my decision. That was a decision made backstage and I honored it." 

Womack said that he believes the RNC and House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE's office chose him to preside over the likely contentious measure thanks to his experience presiding on the House floor.