How will the RBC vote on Michigan and Florida?
On Saturday, May 31st 2008, the Marriot Wardman Park Hotel (pictured), the largest hotel in Washington D.C., will play host to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC). This is the body that will, in the first instance at least, vote on whether to uphold the penalties it meted out to Michigan and Florida – stripping them of all delegates (Pledged and Super-) at the Convention as punishment for bringing their contests forward to before Super Tuesday, in direct contravention of a DNC edict. Whilst delegates were excluded under the penalty, by a quirk of fate (or perhaps an oversight) Michigan and Florida retain their full representation on all three DNC Standing Committees – RBC, Credentials, and Platform.
The RBC can vote to uphold the penalty in full (seat no delegates), reduce the penalty (seat some delegates, in a manner and proportion to be decided), or remove the penalty (seat the delegations as they currently stand, in full). If they choose to lift the penalty altogether, I am not sure if Obama’s campaign will openly call for any delegates to be barred – it would alienate voters in key swing states to be too open about his desire that the current penalty be upheld. Also, the Credentials Committee would be unlikely, in my view, to uphold an RBC penalty that the RBC had voted to rescind. It would be like the Court of Appeals finding for the prosecutor after the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to drop the case. Obviously, if the RBC decide to enforce the penalty in full or in part, Hillary will be almost mathematically unable to win, and so would either have to concede or try her luck with the Credentials Committee and then the Convention Floor.
Once the RBC has ruled on Michigan and Florida, the Credentials Committee, which is meeting in July, will decide whether to add the states to the Temporary Roll, that can vote at the Convention in the first instance (i.e. on whether to accept all delegates) – if added to the Temporary Roll, although no-one can vote on their own challenge, Florida would be able to vote on the challenge to Michigan and vice versa, giving a much better chance of success than one might expect. The Convention Floor then decides whether to confirm those states to the Permanent Roll, which votes on who to nominate for President and Vice-President respectively.
The Credentials Committee is a massive 186 members, (35 of whom are appointed by Howard Dean, the rest apportioned by state), and as I have said can prevent Michigan and Florida from even appearing on the Temporary Roll. If so, they would stand no chance of voting on the nominees. However, to kill off their chances completely, the Credentials Committee would have to vote by 80% to 20% in favour of exclusion. If more than 20% of the Committee signs a ‘minority report’ (and this is significantly lower than the estimated percentage of Clintonistas on the Committee), then alternate plans have to be published as part of the Committee’s recommendation to the Convention. The full Convention Floor would then vote on whether to add Michigan and Florida to the Temporary Roll.
You might think that, given Obama has a majority without Michigan and Florida, that the Convention would reject the minority report outright, but I suspect there are Obama supporters who will not want to necessarily exclude these States – Superdelegates who might one day want to run for national office (and would need FL and MI), delegates not wishing to offend Senators and Congressmen from those states whose votes they need for pet projects, or just a difference of opinion with the RBC on this matter – there are any number of reasons why Obama might not be able to guarantee that his delegates (especially his Superdelegates) vote against lifting the penalty. I think there is a reasonable chance (though not odds on by any means) that if the Convention Floor gets to vote on seating the two delegations, that they will be seated.
If Michigan and Florida are added to the Temporary Roll in the proportions based on the elections earlier this year, I believe they will also be added to the Permanent Roll on that basis as well. If that were to transpire, and it is a massive ‘if’, Hillary Clinton has a significant chance of claiming the nomination, albeit in the ugliest of Convention Floor fights. I would even venture to suggest that her odds could be as tight as 5/2 if Michigan and Florida are both added as they currently stand, given that Clinton supporters have apparently taken some of Michigan’s ‘Uncommitted’ delegate places, as well the pledged delegate spots.
I believe the difficulty for Hillary is getting the issue as far as the Credentials Committee, where a minority report could help her onto the Temporary Roll and onwards. If the RBC rules against seating delegates based on the prohibited contests, then I believe a flood of Superdelegates, including the Party Elders such as Gore, Pelosi and Dean, will decide to step in, safe in the knowledge that they are merely upholding the DNC rulings as voted for in the RBC.
The Clinton campaign needs to either guarantee itself a majority (51%) of those present and voting in the RBC, or to prevent the meeting from making a decision. Quoracy for the RBC stands at 40% of the 30-person Committee, so 12 attendees would allow for a vote, but not all present are compelled to vote. As of the end of April, ‘Demconwatch’ counted the RBC as consisting of 13 Clintonistas, 8 Obamamaniacs, 7 Uncommitted members and the 2 neutral Co-chairs, so it is more likely that Clinton would win than ensure the meeting was inquorate, by encouraging abstentions rather than votes against (“Do you really want to be the person who deprived the Party of a vote at the Convention?”). Two votes more, from the seven uncommitted members, would see the delegates seated in full.
So, if the RBC votes to seat the MI and FL delegates as they stand, or a quorate majority cannot agree upon a decision, Saturday will count as a very good day for Hillary Clinton. If the RBC refuses to seat them at all, she can appeal, but will more likely be stopped by political momentum as Superdelegates flood to Obama on June 4th. If a deal is struck on any sort of comprimise that re-weights the delegations or only seats them in part, then her very last, most outlandish chance will be gone.
All of this is (of course) conjecture, and none of it likely. I fully expect the RBC to refuse to seat the two states in full, and for Clinton to have conceded within hours of losing South Dakota and Montana, but if the RBC fails to enforce its penalty to the full on Saturday, I will be forensically re-reading the byzantine rules of Democratic Party politics many times over so as to re-evaluate the odds on a potential Convention Floor fight the like of which has not been seen since 1980.
The complete Regulations of the RBC can be found here.
A full list of members, and their endorsements as of April 28th, can be found (thanks to the DemConWatch blog) here.