By Ben Kamisar - 04-21-16 15:02 PM EDT
HOLLYWOOD, FLA. - The Republican National Committee's rules committee on Thursday chose to punt on changing rules for how a presidential nominee is chosen in a contested convention.
In avoiding a high-profile battle to simplify the rules, the committee rallied behind chairman Reince Priebus's repeated insistence that no changes should be made before the July convention.
The committee adjourned just one hour after it began without making any changes, including one that could have made it more difficult for party leaders to nominate a "white knight" candidate - someone not currently in the race who could take on Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
Committee members repeatedly warned against provoking the ire of the voters by suggesting rules changes just months before Republicans meet for the convention in Cleveland.
The meeting comes as GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump has repeatedly assailed the entire primary process as rigged, and as many rule committee members cited intense media scrutiny in the run-up to what's typically a wonky and dry event.
"We are basically in the seventh inning of the ball game and its not right to change the rules of the ball game in the middle," Georgia committeeman and rules committee member Randy Evans said.
"This is a very hotly contested election and any change that we make will be viewed with a large degree of cynicism."
The RNC's standing committee doesn't have the final say on the convention rules -- that's left to the delegates elected to the convention rules committee. But the standing committee can make temporary changes to the rules that would need to be agreed on by the convention delegates.
The lion's share of the debate centered on a bid by a longtime Oregon committeeman Solomon Yue to change the rulebook to Roberts' Rules of Order, a common rulebook in government meetings.
Yue believes the change would create more transparency while also clamping down on the ability of party leaders to insert an establishment alternative into the race.
But after about 45 minutes of debate, the vast majority of the hall voted against the bid and quashed it. John Ryder, Tennessee's national committeeman who also serves as Priebus' general counsel, joined the group of lawmakers who spoke out against it.
Ironically, the standing committee operates using Roberts' Rules - so it used Roberts' Rules to block Roberts' Rules.
Yue framed the move as a way to protect grassroots delegates from potential overreach by the convention chairman, likely to be Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
He went on to bash 2012 chairman, then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), for a controversial incident where he read the results of a motion off of a TelePrompTer instead of further examining a contested vote.
"This is a politically supercharged year and we can't afford do have another incident like we had in 2012," he said.
"That would roil the convention and this party as well as cause us to lose in November the white house fight."
While Yue had previously had harsh words for Chairman Priebus' push to block his proposal - private letters from Yue and committee chairman Bruce Ash castigating the chairman leaked in the days before the meeting - he told reporters he was satisfied that his voice was heard and looked forward to reintroducing the change again in the future.
After the meeting ended, RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer needled the press for that narrative by walking up and down the press row to joke about the "chaos," or lack thereof.
The 56-member committee met in a packed conference room at the Diplomat Hotel & Spa in Hollywood, Fla. filled with reporters and the rest of the RNC.
Despite the controversy, the meeting remained businesslike and cordial, with one delegate even going as far to praise the decorum of the room.
The only brief controversy came when Ash asked the RNC's special counsel to walk through the implications of the change. One committeeman, Massachusetts' Ron Kaufman, successfully blocked him from taking the stage by noting that the rules only allow committee members to speak.
Members had briefly considered postponing the motion to a later meeting, which would have kept Yue's hopes alive, but it resoundingly rejected that move.
Washington committeeman Jeff Kent argued that postponement would only bring the issue closer to the convention's doorstep and that the committee should settle the issue in front of the media and the world.
"Everybody is watching, everybody can see what we do. I would hate for us to take action right now that would send this to what would be described as a smaller committee without the cameras around," he said.
"Let's not punt this down the road."
Earlier in the meeting, the committee withdrew two other potential rule changes.
One of those measures would have eliminated the "carve-out" allowing four states - Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada - to hold a primary or caucus before March 1 without penalty.
The other measure would have been a minor procedural change to how the RNC chairman and co-chairman are elected.
Enid Mickelsen, the Utah committeewoman who proposed the rules change at a previous meeting, told the committee she wanted to withdraw her resolution for another day.
"This is a discussion that we need to have again someday, but I would submit that this is not that day," she said in the opening minutes of the meeting.
"I will submit, Mr. Chairman, that in the supercharged political environment in which we find ourselves, this is not the time to be debating rules changes."
- Updated at 4:01 p.m.