Sunday, July 17, 2016

Five Takeaways from the 2016 Convention Rules Committee Meeting

It would be easy to get lost in all the parliamentary procedure of the marathon, one day session the Republican Convention Committee on Rules pushed through a day ago. All the maneuvering aside, though, there were actually a number of noteworthy actions that emerged from the committee's work that will stretch through 2016 and remain influential into the 2020 cycle. Here are five:

1. Presidential nomination study committee
Much as it did eight years ago in Minneapolis, the Rules Committee created a temporary body to consider some of the thornier presidential nomination process questions outside the convention. The scope of the 2009-10 Temporary Delegate Selection Committee concerned just the ins and outs of the primary calendar (leading to additions like the proportionality requirement, for example). However, the newly created temporary committee on presidential nominations has a seemingly broader scope. Everything from delegate apportionment (Rule 14), the calendar (Rule 16) and penalties (Rule 17) will be on the table.

But why not just deal with this all at the convention?

As proponents yesterday in Cleveland collectively put it, the intent was to give the Republican Party the time and space to adequately consider those matters. The argument, as was later borne out in even limited discussion on Rules 14 and 16 matters, was that a maximum two day Convention Committee on Rules was not sufficient to fully consider controversial rules destined to stir up lengthy debates.

Unlike a 2013 subcommittee the Republican National Committee chartered with much the same goal, this committee will likely have a membership that encompasses more than merely Standing Rules Committee members. Instead the new 11 member study panel will potentially have a wider, more representative membership. Of course, the rule vested the power to select the membership in the national committee chair.

Like the Temporary Delegate Selection Committee, this new committee is likely to meet in 2017 with the goal of providing the RNC with recommendations to act on in 2018.

2. Rule 12
Summer 2018 is the cut off for action on any changes to Rules 1-11 and 13-25 in the Rules of the Republican Party because of Rule 12. That measure, added at the 2012 convention, has been in the crosshairs of opponents since Tampa. Breaking with tradition, the five line Rule 12 more explicitly gave the RNC the power to make changes to the aforementioned sets of rules.

Unlike the rule that gave rise to the Temporary Delegate Selection Committee after 2008, though, Rule 12 shifted a more sweeping set of rules-making powers away from the convention and toward the Republican National Committee. The trade-off is that the rule allows the party to adapt to changes that may emerge outside the convention and before the next presidential nomination race.1

Generally, the Rule 12 battle lines (and those of the Romney-led changes in 2012) have been drawn between the RNC proper supporting the latter view and some of the more grassroots elements and traditionalists within the party down to the rank-and-file in favor of the former. That meant that any vote like the one to strike Rule 12 from the rule book was a potential early-day proxy of the similarly divided vote that was expected later on unbinding the delegates.

The amendment to strike Rule 12 from the rulebook failed, garnering only 23 votes in the affirmative.

3. Inaction on Rules 14 and 16
Those two actions -- creating a study committee and retaining Rule 12 -- allow the RNC not only the ability hereafter to make rules changes outside the convention, but give the national party the space to fully consider some of the more time-consuming aspects of the presidential nomination process. All of that is contained primarily within Rules 14-17.

Surprisingly, no amendments were offered to Rule 17, the penalties regime that contributed to a much smoother pre-primary period (especially with respect to the formation of the presidential primary calendar, but also the finalizing of state party bylaws affecting the allocation process). Rule 17 aside, however, every additional measure brought before the Rules Committee failed. Not only was an attempt to force proportionality on the carve-out states voted down, but so, too, were a series of proposals to grant various bonus delegates to states under the Rule 14 apportionment formula.

In that vein, amendments were considered and voted down to add additional bonus delegates to the state-level at-large pool based on Republicans in a state's congressional delegation, and then for having Republican governors. The proposal that received the longest debate was over whether to provide a 20% bonus to states with closed primaries. As with the rest, this amendment was voted down as well. Unlike some of the rest the closed primaries incentive had been a part of morning side negotiations between a grassroots conservative group of delegates and the RNC. When a deal fell through there, the closed primary provision became vulnerable to the same lopsided results that continued to occur with some of the more controversial measures.

Part of what neutered any serious consideration of these proposed changes was the study committee the committee had voted on earlier in the day. A constant refrain throughout the consideration of this section of the rulebook was that the committee just did not have the time in two days of potential meetings at the convention to adequately dispatch with changes. The existence of a future study panel strengthened that argument and gave the majority group of Trump/RNC delegates an escape hatch from potentially time-consuming debate that could delay the progress of the full body in considering changes to all 42 rules.

Essentially, the study committee allowed the Convention Committee on Rules to hit the pause button on any changes to the presidential nomination process for now. However, the RNC will revisit those matters later and outside of the convention.

4. Binding/Unbinding
After failing to attack the specific binding language in Rule 16, the headline act -- the attempt to unbind the delegates to vote their conscience -- shifted into the third segment of the RNC Rules meeting. But before the conscience clause amendment to Rule 38 (the Unit Rule) was even raised, an amendment to Rule 37 from Nevada Rules Committee member, Jordan Ross, came before the committee. The Ross amendment and subsequent vote had the effect of taking the wind out of the sails of the Free the Delegates movement in the Rules Committee.

Rather than freeing the delegates, the Ross amendment moved in the opposite direction, adding more specific language to Rule 37 (and later Rule 38 as well) explicitly binding delegates based on the results of primaries and caucuses. Operationally, all this entailed was the addition of the phrase "nothing in the rule shall prohibit the binding of delegates pursuant to Rule 16(a)(2)" to the current text of Rule 37(b) and Rule 38.

The one-sided vote in favor of the change to Rule 37(b) laid bare what would come on the subsequent vote on Colorado delegate Kendal Unruh's conscience clause amendment that came up next in the sequence. But while the Free the Delegates proposal seemingly came in like a lion, it left the vote of the Convention Committee on Rules a lamb.

Assuming this package of rules changes passes muster with the full 2016 convention, Republican delegates in 2020 will more clearly than ever before be bound based on the results of the primaries and caucuses then. Yes, the convention will continue to have the ability to set its own rules, but such a change will require a significant grassroots movement to organize such a push. Even then, as this 2016 process has demonstrated, arguing to change the rules midstream is an uphill battle after millions of primary voters and caucusgoers have expressed their preferences.

5. The Infamous Rule 40
The final noteworthy change that came out of the committee's meetings was to Rule 40(b). Like Rule 12, this rule triggered some dissatisfaction in Tampa that has persisted for four years. Unlike Rule 12, Rule 40(b) loomed over the discussions of the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process from at least 2014. The reason is that because so many candidates initially entered the race for the 2016 Republican nomination, the eight state majority threshold described in the rule seemed to potentially project a stalemate at the convention over the nominee. Even as the field winnowed, the Rule 40 doomsday scenarios morphed from no one meeting that threshold to multiple candidate reaching it (while others did not).

This controversy -- the complication -- was not lost on the members of the Rules Committee. In a unanimous vote, the committee voted on an amendment to revert the eight state majority threshold to its pre-2012, five state plurality level. Rules Committee chair, Enid Mickelsen, even interjected after passage that, "this thorn that has been in our flesh...for four years now that caused such disappointment and so much trouble has finally been removed."

While Rule 12 survived, then, the eight state majority Rule 40 did not.

All of this and more will go before all 2472 delegates on the first evening of the convention after the Rules Committee has convened one last time. Further debate could come up on the floor via the use of minority reports. But if the series of votes in Rules are any indication, that is an uphill climb for opponents of the package even if they have the signatures.

1 As proponents of Rule 12, like New Hampshire's Steve Duprey argued, the rule laid the ground work for action by the RNC on the creation of the committee that examined the presidential primary debates process for 2016. But it also facilitated changes to the rules pushed through by the Romney team in Tampa. Chiefly, that included reinstating a mandatory proportionality requirement that had become optional, shrinking the proportionality window by two weeks and tweaking the penalties on rules-breaking states. In that regard, Rule 12 was actually used to scale back some of what 2012 delegates like Virginia's Morton Blackwell have called Romney's power-grab.

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (7/16/16)

The Electoral College Map (7/15/16)

The Mechanics of the Rules Committee and Minority Reports

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