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RNC to vote on banning GOP presidential nominees from sanctioned debates

The Republican National Committee is preparing to change its rules at upcoming party meetings to ban future Republican presidential nominees from participating in debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel sent a letter Thursday to the co-chairs of the debate commission alleging that the committee has not thoroughly considered RNC-proposed reforms about the way presidential debates are conducted in general elections. The RNC outlined its concerns in a June letter to the commission and made recommendations for improving the debate process.

"So long as the CPD appears intent on stonewalling the meaningful reforms necessary to restore its credibility with the Republican Party as a fair and nonpartisan actor, the RNC will take every step to ensure that future Republican presidential nominees are given that opportunity elsewhere," McDaniel wrote in the letter.

"Accordingly, the RNC will initiate the process of amending the Rules of the Republican Party at our upcoming Winter Meeting to prohibit future Republican nominees from participating in CPD-sponsored debates," she added.

Donald Trump And Joe Biden Participate In First Presidential Debate
CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 29: U.S. President Donald Trump and former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speak during the first presidential debate at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University on September 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. This is the first of three planned debates between the two candidates in the lead up to the election on November 3. / Getty Images

If the rule change is approved it could lead to a shakeup in the way presidential debates are conducted. Candidates or the two major parties may instead negotiate terms for debates. 

The CPD has sponsored all of the general election presidential debates since 1988. The nonpartisan organization was created to ensure that general election debates between the leading candidates for president and vice president are a "permanent part of the electoral process."

"The CPD deals directly with candidates for President and Vice President who qualify for participation in the CPD's general election debates," the commission said in a statement. "The CPD's plans for 2024 will be based on fairness, neutrality and a firm commitment to help the American public learn about the candidates and the issues."

Republicans took issue with several aspects of the presidential debates in 2020, including holding the first debate after early voting had begun, selecting CSPAN's Steve Scully to be the moderator for one debate, even though he had interned for then-Senator Joe Biden decades earlier, and making changes to the way debates were conducted. 

The CPD said the second debate would be virtual after former President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19. His campaign refused to participate in that format, causing the CPD to cancel the event

McDaniel laid out several proposed reforms for the CPD, including adopting term limits for the board of directors, holding the first debate before early voting begins, creating a code of conduct to prevent CPD officials from engaging in partisan activity, establishing transparent criteria for selecting moderators and creating a code of conduct for those moderators. According to McDaniel's letter, the RNC started talking to the CPD about its concerns last March.

"These proposals are common sense solutions for an organization whose unique, nonpartisan role in American elections requires it to stand above the political fray," McDaniel said in her letter. "Unfortunately, the CPD's responses so far seem designed to delay any reform until it is too late to matter for the 2024 election."

The Democratic National Committee has not yet commented on the RNC's letter or potential rule changes. The parties may have to work together to set debate parameters if the RNC approves the changes. 

In a statement, the Democratic National Committee blasted the RNC's letter. 

"Republicans can't win a fair fight and they know it," DNC Chair Jaime Harrison said. "After years of having their toxic policies exposed on the national stage, the RNC has decided they would rather hide their ideas and candidates from voters."

However, if the RNC follows through on its threat, Harrison did not rule out working with Republicans on debate parameters – without the involvement of the commission. Harrison said regardless of what the RNC does, "voters can count on hearing from President Biden and Vice President Harris who are proud of their records."

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