Republican leaders voted Friday to centralize party control over presidential primary debates in the name of punishing two networks that are producing major films about Hillary Clinton.
The resolution, obtained by TIME and published in full at bottom, fulfills a Republican National Committee threat to boycott NBC and CNN as primary debate sponsors if the networks move forward with their plans to air the films about the 2016 Democratic front-runner.
Republicans argue in the resolution that the projects, which have yet to be actually produced, “are an attempt to show political favoritism and put a thumb on the scales for the next presidential election.”
“Airing this programming will jeopardize will the credibility of CNN and NBC as supposedly unbiased news networks and undermine the perceived objectivity of the coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign by these networks,” the resolution, formally titled “A resolution in support of media objectivity and accountability.” states. The measure passed unanimously by voice vote.
CNN and TIME are owned by the same parent company.
The resolution lays the groundwork for the centralization of the RNC’s control over the Republican primary process — a main priority of Chairman Reince Priebus, who is using longstanding GOP skepticism of the media to his political advantage. The numerous debates during the 2012 primaries are widely seen as having damaged the party and eventual nominee Mitt Romney.
Priebus laid into the networks on Friday in a fiery speech to the members of the RNC, drawing an extended standing ovation as he proclaimed the networks have “obvious bias” and that Republicans are “done putting up with this nonsense.”
“That’s why we said to the media with a united voice, that a network that spends millions of dollars to spotlight Hillary Clinton is a network with obvious bias,” he said. “And that is a network that won’t be hosting a single Republican primary debate.”
Our Party rules allow us to take action on these debates, so it’s time that we do what’s right for our Party, and our candidates. And by the way, it’s the right thing to do for our voters. They’re not going to get a real debate of substance if it’s run by a network who wants to help out Hillary Clinton. We’re done putting up with this nonsense. There are plenty of other news outlets. We’ll still reach voters, maybe more voters. CNN and NBC anchors will just have to watch on their competitors’ networks. The media overplayed their hand this time. It was so obvious that even the liberals saw it. After we took a stand we found some unlikely allies. Did you ever think you’d read in the New York Times Maureen Dowd writing Reince is Right? And some reporters at CNN and NBC are upset at the Democrat donors in their companies who made the decisions to run the Clinton promos. The networks can talk all they want about the lines between their divisions. But the same week that people at NBC promised that NBC News was different than NBC entertainment are separate — that very same week they made that argument, they announced that they are giving a primetime MSNBC slot to Alec Baldwin. We don’t have time for the media’s games.
Both networks have maintained that their news divisions are not involved in the projects, but journalists at both networks have expressed reservations about them.
The resolution has unified the party behind the GOP chairman, who intends to use it as a launching pad for tightening the party’s oversight of the debate process — including which networks and moderators will be granted the opportunity to participate.
It is expected to pass easily when party leaders take it up for a vote at the RNC meeting here.
Priebus told TIME that the most important component of the resolution comes in its final paragraph. That measure states the party “shall endeavor to bring more order to the primary debates and ensure a reasonable number of debates, appropriate moderators and debate partners are chosen.”
The RNC Rules committee formed a private subcommittee Thursday to draft formal rules dealing with the debate calendar and candidates that violate party dictates, the second step toward consolidating the process under the RNC. The process of drafting specific rules is expected to take several months, and may include severe penalties for candidates that participate in unsanctioned debates.
The full resolution is below:
WHEREAS, former Secretary Hillary Clinton is likely to run for President in 2016, and CNN and NBC have both announced programming that amounts to little more than extended commercials promoting former Secretary Clinton; and
WHEREAS, these programming decisions are an attempt to show political favoritism and put a thumb on the scales for the next presidential election; and
WHEREAS, airing this programming will jeopardize will the credibility of CNN and NBC as supposedly unbiased news networks and undermine the perceived objectivity of the coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign by these networks; and
WHEREAS, Robert Greenblatt, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, contributed the maximum amount to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign committee, contributed $25,000 to Obama’s 2012 Victory Fund, and this year contributed $10,000 to the Democratic National Committee; therefore be it –
RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee calls on CNN and NBC to cancel the airing of these political ads masked as unbiased entertainment; and, be it further
RESOLVED, that if CNN and NBC continue to move forward with this and other such programming, the Republican National Committee will neither partner with these networks in the 2016 presidential primary debates nor sanction any primary debates they sponsor, and, be it finally
RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee shall endeavor to bring more order to the primary debates and ensure a reasonable number of debates, appropriate moderators and debate partners are chosen, and that other issues pertaining to the general nature of such debates are addressed.
This post was updated with Priebus’ Friday comments and the outcome of the vote.