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Republicans vote to bar CNN, NBC News from partnering in '16 debates

The GOP’s governing body approved a resolution on Friday barring NBC News and CNN from partnering with the Republican National Committee in hosting 2016 presidential primary debates. 

Members of the RNC, gathered in Boston for their Summer Meeting voted to bar NBC News and CNN from participating in 2016 debates due to forthcoming projects about Hillary Clinton planned by both network. They approved the resolution by a voice vote.

The resolution states that the RNC would not "partner with (CNN or NBC) in the 2016 presidential primary debates nor sanction any primary debates they sponsor."

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“We’re done putting up with this nonsense,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said ahead of the vote. “There are plenty of other outlets. We’ll still reach voters, maybe more voters. But CNN and NBC anchors will just have to watch on their competitors’ networks.”

NBC Entertainment has announced plans to produce a biographical film about Clinton for air in 2015, while CNN’s documentary division is producing a biopic about the former secretary of state slated for sometime in 2014.

The RNC’s effort reflects an early and aggressive effort against ceding any ground to Clinton, Democrats’ early favorite in a presidential candidate in the next election. (Clinton has not yet hinted at whether she intends to again seek the Democratic nomination.) But the RNC’s effort also represents a bid to build enthusiasm with the conservative grassroots, who generally regard the establishment media with skepticism, and often accuse them of favoring Democrats in their news coverage.

The RNC claims the programs "are an attempt to show political favoritism and put a thumb on the scales for the next presidential election," and "will jeopardize the credibility of CNN and NBC as supposedly unbiased news networks."

Priebus wrote executives at NBC Entertainment and CNN on Aug. 5, warning that if each network did not cancel planned projects about Clinton, each network’s news division would be barred from participating in official Republican primary debates in 2016.

“It’s appalling to know executives at major networks like NBC and CNN who have donated to Democrats and Hillary Clinton have taken it upon themselves to be Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives,” Priebus wrote at the time. In the weeks since then, the RNC chairman embarked on a media blitzkrieg looking to pressure both NBC and CNN to cancel their projects.

NBC News spokeswoman Erika Masonhall said in a statement earlier this month: "NBC News is completely independent of NBC Entertainment and has no involvement in this project."

"NBC Entertainment has many projects in development, and this particular miniseries -- which has nothing to do with the NBC News division -- is in the very early stages," NBC Entertainment said in a statement last week. "The script has not been written nor has it been ordered into production. It would be premature to draw any conclusions or make any assumptions about it at this time."

"The project is in the very early stages of development, months from completion with most of the reporting and the interviewing still to be done. Therefore speculation about the final program is just that," CNN said in a statement on Friday. "We encouraged all interested parties to wait until the program premieres before judgments are made about it. Unfortunately, the RNC was not willing to do that."

Republicans’ move to shut out two major news networks from its 2016 debates reflects a broader effort by the RNC to seize control of their primary debate process before the next presidential election. 

The post-2012 election autopsy ordered by Priebus found that “there have been too many debates, and they took place too early.”

To that end, the “Growth and Opportunity Project” report argued for limiting presidential debates to a dozen or so held no earlier than the fall preceding the presidential primaries. The RNC has also explored limiting debates to those it has sanctioned, and has publicly floated the idea of having conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin moderate such a debate. 

However, candidates aren’t necessarily prohibited from participating in debates not sanctioned by the RNC, a decision that might appear to candidates looking for more public exposure in a GOP primary. The RNC could conceivably impose sanctions, though, against candidates who opt to participate in such a debate.

“We could change the rules to say here are the penalties if you go outside the established debate guidelines,” said RNC communications director Sean Spicer. “The one thing that the RNC has that everybody wants is the nomination.”