CLEVELAND — Delegates to the Republican National Convention began drafting the party’s 2016 platform here Monday with presumptive nominee Donald Trump a distant presence in the discussions.
The opening day saw delegates on one subcommittee modify draft language on trade, a key issue on which Trump has been at odds with years of Republican doctrine in favor of free-trade agreements. The change moved the party closer to its historical position.
Another subcommittee beat back an organized effort to soften language on gay and lesbian issues, reaffirming the party’s commitment to traditional marriage and to the protection of religious liberty. Organizers have vowed to revisit the issues before the full committee.
With the country convulsed by killings last week in Dallas, Louisiana and Minnesota, the party affirmed its support of law enforcement officials while implicitly criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. “Every life matters,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a member of the platform committee, in offering the language.
The full platform committee is scheduled to conclude its work on Tuesday. The final draft produced by the committee will then be presented to the full convention early next week for ratification.
The gathering marked the first time competing factions of the party that warred during the most bitter GOP presidential race of the modern era began coming face-to-face, just days before the start of the Republican National Convention. In most years, the activities transpiring this week in a downtown convention center would amount to little-watched toiling among party elders and the most ardent foot soldiers of the national conservative movement. But this year’s pre-convention meetings, which continue through Friday, will be watched closely for signs of fissures.
On details of the party platform, Trump has signaled to party leaders that he will take a hands-off posture toward a process that could result in a document that differs in significant ways with the ideas, policies and sentiments he has discussed during his presidential campaign
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who co-chairs the platform committee, said Monday morning that he had spoken with Trump last week and was encouraged by the candidate to let the delegates do their work as they saw best.
Others playing key roles echoed that view. Patricia Longo of Connecticut, who co-chairs the subcommittee on family, health, education and crime, said, “They said they’re going to have nothing to say about the platform.” She added, “He’ll do what he wants anyway.”
The party did not release the initial draft of the platform, but it contained echoes of Trump’s language on trade. In contrast to Republican leaders, Trump has been sharply critical of trade agreements dating back a quarter-century.
“We need better negotiated trade agreements that put America first,” the draft read, according to a copy first obtained by Time magazine. “Republicans understand that you can succeed in a negotiation only if you are willing to walk away from it. A Republican president will insist on parity in trade and stand ready to implement countervailing duties if other countries refuse to cooperate.”
The draft also included opposition to a vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership for the duration of President Obama’s term. But that language was struck during a subcommittee meeting — a move that spared pro-TPP Republicans and also prevented Republicans from outflanking the Democrats on the left.
Two days ago, similar language had been proposed for the Democratic platform by supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who argued that the Republicans were on the verge of opposing the TPP in their own platform.
Much of the action Monday morning took place in the subcommittee dealing with family and health issues, as delegates debated proposed language on same-sex marriage, abortion, bathrooms and the use of the nation’s founding documents as well as the Bible in the teaching of history.
Annie Dickerson, a delegate from New York, presented several amendments designed to change the party’s stance toward the LGBT community. Backing her efforts is the group American Unity Fund, an organization started by Paul Singer, a wealthy Republican donor and proponent of LGBT rights.
Asked what she had accomplished after seeing her amendments fail in subcommittee, Dickerson, who works with Singer, said, “I don’t know.”
Debate over same-sex marriages erupted again before the full committee later Monday, but it resulted in no change in the party’s long-standing support in favor of traditional marriage.
Longo had predicted that the full committee would make no substantial changes in the party’s posture. “The way we describe marriage has been in our platform since Lincoln,” she said.
Perkins also played down differences within the committee on social issues. “Look, I’m a Baptist,” he said. “You ought to see some of the meetings we have. This is all very cordial.”
On same-sex marriage, the platform calls for rolling back the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing such unions. “Our laws and our government’s regulations should recognize marriage as the union of one man and one woman and actively promote married family life as the basis of a stable and prosperous society. . . . We do not accept the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage and we urge its reversal, whether through judicial reconsideration or a constitutional amendment returning control over marriage to the states.”
On immigration and border security issues that helped draw early interest to Trump’s campaign, the draft of the platform calls for the “construction of a physical barrier” — but news reports late Monday said that the committee might swap in wording explicitly calling for a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
Even the fate of the District of Columbia earns a mention. The draft rejects calls for statehood and faults District officials for “attempting to seize from the Congress” budget authority, adding that the move “mirrors the unacceptable spike in violent crime and murders currently afflicting the city.” And the document faults city officials for a “campaign of massive resistance by denying virtually all applications for gun ownership.” The document calls on a Republican Congress and Republican president to “enact legislation allowing law-abiding Washingtonians to own and carry firearms.”
Weigel reported from Washington.