Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Thoughts on a Motion to Suspend the Rules on the Presidential Nomination Roll Call

In the wake of the defeated attempt to force a roll call vote on the rules package at the Republican National Convention -- summary from FHQ forthcoming -- there have been a number of questions and comments lobbed FHQ's way about the possibility of a suspension of the rules on the nomination roll call vote on the second night of the convention. Let's look at this from a few angles.

First, under the Rules of the US House of Representatives, a suspension of the rules is typically a maneuver to streamline the consideration of legislation. It is a tool used to move non-controversial legislation through the body quickly. This was the context in which Jonathan Bernstein and I were talking about it last night as things wrapped up in Cleveland. In other words, given how day one progressed -- the afternoon portion anyway -- Trump forces and the Republican National Committee may have some interest in skipping the roll call. Passing over that step would likely to voting on the nomination by acclamation as the convention will do for the vice presidential nomination and similar to what Democrats did in the midst of their 2008 nomination roll call vote.

Again, the streamlining function is the usual usage of a suspension of the rules. Yet, another way of looking at it is as a delay tactic; a move like the attempted roll call petition on day one. In both cases, the intention was or could be to slow down a Trump nomination and embarrass the presumptive nominee at his own convention. As described in Rule 32 of the Rules of the Republican Party a motion to suspend the rules is always in order and requires first the support of a majority of delegates in one state, but that it be seconded by the majority of delegates in seven additional states.

Now, if one followed the proceedings from Cleveland on day one, one might be tempted to say, "Here we go again." Indeed, that eight state barrier is awfully reminiscent of the seven state barrier mandated in Rule 39 to force a roll call vote. This means that the result is a battle of the wills to some extent.

Do delegates defeated last Thursday in the Rules Committee and again on their attempt at a symbolic roll call vote on the rules package on the floor want to go through another likely loss? How much is that worth to them?

Do Team Trump and the RNC want another situation where they have the numbers on their side, but once again risk appearing heavy-handed quashing yet another attempted rebellion on national television?

Those are tough questions to answer; known unknowns if one will. But there are a few other pieces to this puzzle to throw out there.

First, Free the Delegates' ringleader, Kendal Unruh (CO), was not terribly specific in her comments after the failed roll call attempt about next steps. The direction she did provide seemed to be focused more on delegate challenges to the (intra-delegation) roll call tallies allowed under Rule 37(b). That, however, is a dead end given Rule 16(a)(2) and the changes to Rule 37(b). Those challenges will go nowhere.

Second, Rule 32 only describes the procedure for making a motion to suspend the rules. Not wordy in the first place, the rule is silent on what comes next. That would imply that the US House rules fill the void.  In the House, the standard operating procedure following a motion to suspend the rules is limited debate and a vote on the motion. To pass, the motion would need to receive the support of  two-thirds of the body.

Again, this is exactly what happened in Denver in 2008 during the roll call vote for the Democratic nomination. Then-Senator Clinton made a motion to suspend the rules, stop the roll call (but still count the votes) and nominate then-Senator Barack Obama by acclamation. But that was an attempt at party unity. In the context of the 2016 Republican National Convention, such a motion -- particularly on the part of Trump and the RNC -- would produce the exact opposite effect; further deepening the divide within the convention if not the broader party.

Look, Trump and the RNC want their roll call, but at what cost. The question for day two may end up being how willing they are to put up with (what they will view as) further delay maneuvers that do not represent the majority of delegates. Given that the majority of delegates behind any attempted delays have been and are Cruz supporters and that their standard bearer has been no stranger to thumbing his nose at (parliamentary) business as usual, the Trump forces and RNC may have their hands forced one more time.

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (7/18/16)

The Electoral College Map (7/17/16)

Five Takeaways from the 2016 Convention Rules Committee Meeting

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