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Republicans may boycott CNN, NBC presidential debates

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responds forcefully to intense questioning on the September attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites in Beng
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responds forcefully to intense questioning on the September attacks on U.S. diplomatic sites in Beng

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Republican party resolved on Friday to boycott any 2016 presidential debates sponsored by CNN and NBC if the networks go ahead with plans to make special programs on Hillary Clinton, who is widely expected to seek the Democratic nomination.

Delegates to a meeting of the Republican National Committee voted for a resolution that included the boycott and said the programs would be "little more than extended commercials promoting former Secretary Clinton."

The RNC also resolved that it would require that any future debates have "appropriate moderators and debate partners."

Delegates approved the motion by a unanimous voice vote.

Republican leaders sent letters of protest to both networks last week complaining that a planned CNN documentary and an NBC miniseries amount to political ads for the former secretary of state and wife of former President Bill Clinton. She has not said she is running.

The vote came on the last day of a three-day gathering called "Making it Happen," at which Republicans discussed ways to use technology and other means to connect with a wider range of voters, following Mitt Romney's failure to unseat incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama in last November's election.

Officials with CNN, a unit of Time-Warner Inc, have said their documentary, due to appear in theaters and on television in 2014, is not yet complete, while Comcast Corp's NBC said its mini-series is being produced by an entertainment unit, which is independent of the news division.

In preparation for the 2016 presidential election, RNC Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the party would consider holding its nominating convention in June or July, rather than August, to reduce the amount of time Republican candidates spend competing against one another to win the nomination. An earlier convention also would allow the Republican nominee to focus on the Democratic opponent.

"A network that spends millions of dollars to spotlight Hillary Clinton, that's a network with an obvious bias and that's a network that won't be hosting a single Republican primary debate," Priebus said on Friday. "We're done putting up with this nonsense...The media overplayed their hand this time."

A Democratic Party spokesman said the move would only limit Republicans' ability to reach more voters.

"If they truly want to connect with a broader audience, they need an agenda that fights for the middle class and is inclusive," said Michael Czin, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. "Sadly, it appears that with today's vote, their approach is to actually speak to even fewer voters."

An affiliate of News Corp's Fox had been in talks with NBC about a role in producing its Clinton miniseries, according to press reports, but on Friday dropped out of those talks, U.S. media reported.

Representatives of Fox did not respond requests for comment.

NBC said in a statement its series "is in the very early stages. The script has not been written nor has it been ordered to production. It would be premature to draw any conclusions."

CNN also noted that its documentary is far from complete.

"We encouraged all interested parties to wait until the program premieres before judgments are made about it," the network said. "Unfortunately, the RNC was not willing to do that."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, seen as a likely 2016 Republican contender for the White House, addressed the RNC meeting in a closed-door session Thursday.

Clinton, the former U.S. senator from New York, ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 2008, losing to Obama, but Republicans at the Boston meeting clearly saw her as a threat.

Republicans are holding their regular summer meeting in a Boston hotel next door to the convention center where Romney delivered his election night concession speech nine months ago. They moved the meeting, originally due to be held in Chicago, to Boston as a show of support after the April 15 bombing of the city's marathon.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by David Storey and Leslie Gevirtz)

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