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RNC leaders reject bid to rewrite convention rules

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The Republican National Committee on Thursday voted down a controversial proposal that would have recommended dramatic rule changes for this summer’s convention.

The proposal, which was sponsored by Solomon Yue, an RNC committeeman from Oregon, was intended to further empower the convention’s delegates — injecting the convention, Yue argued, with a degree of transparency at a time of unprecedented scrutiny of the party’s internal procedures.

The vote bitterly divided the party, pitting a small group eager to advance the proposal against RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and his allies, who warned that implementing the change would further inflame Donald Trump, who has accused the committee of overseeing a “rigged” process that’s stacked against him.

But after Priebus last week came out against it, Bruce Ash, an Arizona RNC member and the chairman of the Rules Committee tasked with overseeing the hearing on Yue’s measure, wrote a letter to fellow committee members in which he accused Priebus of a “breach of trust.” Ash accused Priebus of working to scuttle the bill and said Priebus was working behind the scenes to ensure it didn’t appear before the Rules Committee at this week’s annual spring meeting here. Yue, meanwhile, wrote a letter of his own in which he accused the RNC of “institutional tyranny.”

Yue’s proposal, the only major agenda item at the Rules Committee meeting, would replace the system used at Republican national conventions for decades, which mirror those used by the U.S. House of Representatives, with Robert’s Rules of Order, a design that’s often used to oversee civic and organizational meetings. The change would diminish the control typically exhibited by the convention’s presiding officer — a role that’s expected to be filled by House Speaker Paul Ryan — and hand more influence to the 2,472 delegates. Under Robert’s Rules, any delegate with an objection would have to be recognized by the presiding officer.

The change would have other consequences. Some argued that adoption of Robert’s Rules would make it harder to reopen the nomination process, decreasing the probability of insiders drafting a so-called “white knight” candidate who could grab the nomination at a deadlocked convention.

Tensions flared as the RNC’s Rules Committee debated the amendment at the spring meeting. After Yue took the floor to introduce his proposal, a number of Priebus allies followed to declare their opposition — warning that it was a drastic change that the party simply couldn’t afford to make at such a politically sensitive time.

“We’re basically in the seventh inning of a ballgame, and I don’t think it’s right to change the rules of the game in the middle of the game,” argued Randy Evans, an RNC member from Georgia. “Any change we make would be viewed with a very large degree of cynicism.”

John Ryder, a member from Tennessee who is the RNC’s counsel, warned that it would “subject this committee to enormous political criticism.”

At one point, Jim Bopp, who serves as counsel to the Rules Committee, offered to speak about Yue’s motion. But Ron Kaufman, an influential RNC member from Massachusetts who opposed it, interrupted to object that Bopp wasn’t allowed to speak because he isn’t technically a member of the panel.

Evans, Ryder and Kaufman, several sources said, were among those who in the past week sought to rally opposition to the change. The amendment was ultimately struck down overwhelmingly in a “yea” or “nay” vote.

Even had the 56-member Rules Committee endorsed the proposal, it would have only suggestive power and, hence, no immediate effect. That’s because it would still fall on a separate Rules Committee, which will gather at the convention and which is made up of 112 delegates, to finalize the rules that will be used in Cleveland.

As he opened up the hearing, Ash sought to tamp down the attention his clash with Priebus had generated.

“There’s been a little bit written in the press about the work of this committee,” Ash said. “Let’s be clear about one thing: This committee has done a good job standing together.”

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