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RNC Delegates Debate ‘Binding’ Definitions Ahead of Rules Committee

CLEVELAND, Ohio —The RNC's general counsel — a Donald Trump delegate from Tennessee — on Thursday issued a warning to delegates hoping to unseat Trump at the national convention by clarifying the party's official stance on binding delegates.

John Ryder told RNC Rules Committee members that the "rules of the GOP both permit and require the binding of delegates" and that delegates "may not retroactively change the rules under which they were elected." Ryder argued that by choosing to participate in the convention, delegates are agreeing to follow the allocation rules under which they were elected — meaning that if their state party rules bind them to Trump, they agreed to follow those rules when they accepted a delegate slot.

Committee meet to decide on GOP platform 3:34

His comments directly refute the esoteric interpretation of the RNC's rules that state that delegates aren't bound, which Trump opponents have seized on as proof they can vote against the candidate at the convention, in hopes of ousting him from the nomination.

Ryder's explanation, however, offered an outline for how RNC leadership will answer delegates who insist they're not bound to Trump on the floor.

But the main driver of the alternate theory of binding, North Dakota RNC member Curly Haugland, stood up to refute Ryder's comments, arguing that "there are no rules for the 2016 convention until convention adopts the rules," meaning the whole debate over binding delegates could shift Thursday when the Convention Rules Committee meets to hammer out the final rules for the convention. Haugland also noted that he raised questions about seemingly contradictory aspects of the rules on binding in 2012 that were never answered.

His objections hinted at the debate to come Thursday, when the Convention Rules Committee meets, where delegates opposed to Trump are pushing an amendment to the rules to allow delegates to vote their "conscience" and thus oppose Trump.

It was the only significant development to come out of the RNC's Standing Rules Committee meeting, which voted to table all proposed rule amendments to avoid appearing to influence the Convention Rules Committee.

Under consideration were two proposals — one from Oregon RNC member Solomon Yue to postpone the enactment of any rule changes until after the convention, and one from Arizona RNC member Bruce Ash that would ensure only the delegates' votes cast for candidates who had their names placed into nomination (who passed an 8-state delegate threshold) — would be counted.

Florida RNC member Peter Feaman, in comments characteristic of concerns expressed by other members of the committee, proposed postponing consideration of Yue's amendment indefinitely out of concerns that any changes approved by the Standing Rules Committee would be seen as "abrogating the authority" of the Convention Rules Committee.

"At this point in time it just seems to me that we're a day before the beginning of the convention rules committee and I don't think we should be seen as a body to do anything that might abrogate the authority of the convention rules committee," he said.

Virginia RNC member Morton Blackwell spoke out against the substance of Ash's rule, arguing it would disenfranchise delegates who support candidates other than the nominee and result in delegates walking off the convention floor, as Ron Paul supporters did in 2012. But Ash pushed for the passage of his amendment, arguing it would show symbolic support for Trump from party leadership in the face of "almost constant attack" from GOP leaders nationwide.

Governors, "high elected officials within our party" and others "have constantly put our presumptive nominee under the pressure he has been under, which has created all kinds of other problems potentially for our candidates and our success this fall."

Still, the amendment was voted down, with members again arguing the debate should be left up the the Convention Rules Committee, which meets on Thursday. There, an entirely different group of 112 delegates — some RNC members, a few elected officials but many grassroots activists, all with different priorities — will debate a slate of changes, which will ultimately be voted on and implemented by the full convention.