CLEVELAND — The Republican Party on Tuesday moved closer to firmly embracing a series of staunchly conservative positions on abortion, gay rights, gun rights and immigration reform in a platform document that takes sharp aim at Obama administration policies and reinforces long-standing party orthodoxy on major issues.
Among the specific policies the platform committee endorsed here is a “border wall” that would cover “the entirety of the Southern Border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.” Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has made a proposed border wall a cornerstone of his campaign.
Just days before the Republican National Convention, party leaders also prepared for a potential fight over how to formally make Trump the party’s presidential candidate by deferring to the convention itself any formal decisions about how to conduct the nomination roll call.
Members of the convention’s platform committee considered hundreds of proposed changes to a party platform that many delegates described as a political marketing document. The platform is designed to last a presidential term, outlining the party’s formal position on virtually every major policy issue facing the country.
The final draft of the platform will be presented at the convention early next week for ratification.
“From the beginning, we said this was going to be a conservative platform and it was going to be about the things that really unite us in terms of jobs, the economy, national security — things that people are worried about,” said Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), who chaired the panel.
There was widespread agreement on the party’s position on economic and national security issues and the tougher stance on social issues reinforced the party’s conservative view despite Trump’s calls for relaxed abortion restrictions and his support for some rights for gay and transgender Americans.
Trump was barely mentioned by the 112-member platform committee, composed mostly of longtime conservative activists. The candidate and his team had little presence during the discussions, ceding the details of the platform to party faithful.
On abortion, the committee added the full text of the Hyde Amendment — which bans the use of federal funding for all forms of the procedure — to the platform. The panel also included support for “religious freedom” laws and made changes to reinforce its support for traditional marriage.
Those changes came at a time of increasing support for abortion rights as well as gay and transgender rights.
Approval of legal abortion jumped from 51 percent to 58 percent in 2015 and support climbed among Democrats and Republicans, according to Associated Press-Gfk polling. A record-high six in 10 Americans support same-sex marriage and a similar share say individual states should not be allowed to define marriage as only between a man and a woman, according to Washington Post-ABC News polling last year. A CNN/ORC poll released in May found that a majority of Americans don’t agree with so-called bathroom bills, such as the one passed in North Carolina, that restrict which restrooms transgender people can use.
On border security, there is declining support for a wall, but majority support for fencing. Just 34 percent of Americans favored walling off the entire U.S.-Mexico border, according to a Pew Research Center poll published in April.
Regardless, few members of the platform committee spoke in opposition to any of the proposals.
New York delegate Annie Dickerson tried Monday afternoon to soften the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage and gay adoption. Her proposals were quickly rejected.
On Tuesday, she complained about redundant proposals that would further reject same-sex marriage. “We know that we are not gay-happy or gay-supportive here, but the horse has been beaten here again and again and again,” she said.
Even in regard to terrorism, the committee toiled for more than 10 minutes Tuesday over language that would call out the Islamic State’s targeting of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. With a large bloc of members opposed only to denouncing the group’s persecution of LGBT people, the panel briefly considered rewriting the passage to include mention of “Christians, Jews and women” before ultimately voting to oppose the terrorist group’s “brutal assault on all human beings.”
Although most of the platform goes untouched from year to year, delegates used the document to acknowledge more recent developments. They added language supporting law enforcement officers in the wake of recent attacks and toughening the party’s opposition to China’s aggressive engagement across the South China Sea — a move made just hours after an international body ruled that the country has no legal or historical basis to its recent claims.
Without debate, the committee expressed opposition to a proposed ban on AR-15 assault rifles and restrictions on the size of ammunition magazine clips. And the panel added language calling for “special scrutiny” of people from “terror-sponsoring” countries seeking to enter the United States.
Public support for a national assault weapons ban jumped sharply last month after a gunman used a semiautomatic assault rifle to kill 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. According to a new CBS News poll conducted days after the massacre, 57 percent of Americans said they support a national ban. That’s a 13-point jump from a similar poll in December.
On military issues, delegates formally expressed opposition to requiring women to join the draft and rejected language that would have softened the party’s opposition to women serving in military combat roles. But an overwhelming majority of Americans support having women fight in combat and more see improved military effectiveness as a result of the change, according to polls taken in recent years by The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center.
On foreign policy, the committee rebuffed a series of proposals from libertarian committee members, including one critical of the U.S. policy supporting a regime change in Syria; and another to soften the party’s opposition to restarting diplomatic relations with Cuba.
The party’s meetings will continue Wednesday, when the Republican National Committee will hold its quarterly meeting. The convention’s rules committee is set to meet Thursday and Friday to determine how Trump will be nominated next week.
Technically, the committee can write the rules as it pleases, and much of the meeting is expected to focus on whether delegates are bound by the results of the primaries and caucuses in the states. A group of anti-Trump Republicans has been looking for ways to unbind all delegates.
Members of the Republican National Committee overseeing the party largely avoided wading into the issue Tuesday. An interpretation from the RNC’s Rules Committee counsel made clear that as things stand now, the delegates are bound by the results, which unless altered would ensure Trump the nomination.
Two proposals were offered to head off any such efforts to change the rules and release the delegates. Both, however, were set aside by voice votes, as the RNC Rules Committee decided not to try to influence or tie the hands of the convention rules committee.
Bruce Ash, the national committeeman from Arizona, pleaded with fellow committee members to make clear that the will of the voters should be honored. “Whether you supported Donald Trump along the way or not, he is our presumptive nominee,” Ash said. “He followed all the rules.”
Solomon Yue, the national committeeman from Oregon, offered a related proposal to ensure that no mischief could occur. “I urge you to show this committee is firmly behind our nominee,” he said.
In a presentation thick with legalese, RNC counsel John Ryder told the others that the rules under which the delegates were chosen mean they could not now unbind themselves.
But Curly Haugland, the national committeeman from North Dakota, dissented, expressing the long-held view, disputed by others, that the convention can do whatever it wishes.
The net effect was to postpone the intrigue until later in the week, when the anti-Trump forces show their hand — and their potential strength — and party officials and Trump campaign strategists show the degree to which they are in control of the convention.