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RNC Suspending Partnership With NBC For Houston Debate

The Republican National Committee said Friday it was suspending its partnership with NBC News to host a presidential debate next year in Texas, citing concerns it had with how CNBC conducted the most recent debate.

The Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colorado, on Oct. 28, 2015.

* Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

The Republican National Committee said Friday it was suspending its partnership with NBC News to host a presidential debate next year in Houston, citing concerns it had with how CNBC conducted the most recent debate. 

The decision casts some uncertainty over the Texas debate, which is scheduled for Feb. 26 at the University of Houston. In a letter to NBC News, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said the party still intends to have a debate that day but did not say where it would be.

The letter, which is addressed to NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack, comes two days after a debate in Colorado that many Republicans saw as unfair to the candidates. Among those who complained most vocally was U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who told moderators the debate should not be a "cage match."

"The RNC’s sole role in the primary debate process is to ensure that our candidates are given a full and fair opportunity to lay out their vision for America’s future,"  Priebus wrote. "We simply cannot continue with NBC without full consultation with our campaigns."

Minutes after Priebus' letter was released, NBC News issued a statement promising to smooth things over with the RNC.

"This is a disappointing development," the network said. "However, along with our debate broadcast partners at Telemundo we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party."

The dustup could spell danger for the Houston debate, which Texas Republicans have been holding up as a sign of the state's outsized influence in the nominating process. An RNC spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Priebus' letter means the location of the debate is in flux. 

In a statement, the University of Houston would only say it is "actively monitoring" the situation and looks forward to the attention the debate will bring to the school.

In the wake of the CNBC debate, a number of campaigns have reportedly banded together to discuss changes to the debate process, including taking some control away from the RNC. For now, it does not appear the Houston-based Cruz campaign is involved in those talks.

The senator, however, has continued to criticize the moderators since leaving the debate stage. In an interview Thursday on Fox News, Cruz said the hosts' goals were "to belittle, to insult each of the candidates and to get them fighting as much as possible."

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Texas chairman of Cruz's campaign, chimed in Friday on Facebook, suggesting the more Republican-friendly Fox News "carry the debate." Another statewide official, Gov. Greg Abbott, addressed the RNC's move later Friday, signaling in a tweet that he supports suspending the NBC partnership "because of the petty ... questions."

Disclosure: The University of Houston is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

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