Top U.S. Republicans look to Trump to reconfigure Alabama Senate race
Washington Republicans tightened pressure Tuesday on Alabama’s GOP to keep a defiant Roy Moore from being elected to the Senate next month, with many voicing hope that U.S. President Donald Trump could use his clout to resolve a problem that Republicans say leaves them with no easy options.
With Alabama Republicans reluctant to block Moore and enrage his legions of loyal conservative supporters, national GOP leaders were turning to Trump as their best chance of somehow turning the tide. Two women by name have said Moore molested them in the 1970s when one was 14 and the other 16 and he was a local district attorney, and three others said he pursued romantic relationships with them around the same time.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in all-out warfare with Moore, said there would be conversations about the anti-establishment firebrand after Trump returned Tuesday night from Asia. He said he’d already spoken about Moore to the president, Vice-President Mike Pence and White House chief of staff John Kelly.
“He’s obviously not fit to be in the United States Senate and we’ve looked at all the options to try to prevent that from happening,” said McConnell, who Monday said he believed Moore’s accusers. “This close to election, it’s a complicated matter.”’
Maintaining his political brand as an unrepentant outsider, Moore again denied abusing the women in an email that reminded voters of their loyalty to him: “He’s the same man you’ve always known him to be.” It added: “On to victory!”
Twice removed from his post as state Supreme Court chief Justice, Moore’s candidacy in the Dec. 12 special election confronts Republicans with two damaging potential outcomes. A victory saddles GOP senators with a colleague accused of abusing and harassing teenagers, a troubling liability heading into next year’s congressional elections, while an upset victory by Democrat Doug Jones would slice the already narrow GOP Senate majority to an unwieldy 51-49.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Congress he has “no reason to doubt” the women. Sessions, a former Alabama senator and still one of the GOP’s most influential voices in the state, didn’t rule out a Justice Department probe of the allegations, telling the House Judiciary Committee: “We will evaluate every case as to whether or not it should be investigated.”
The national Republican Party ended a fundraising arrangement with Moore’s campaign, Federal Election Commission documents showed. And House Speaker Paul Ryan joined the pile of congressional Republicans saying Moore should drop out, saying: “If he cares about the values and people he claims to care about, then he should step aside.”
Two Washington Republicans, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations, said they didn’t know what Trump would do, but said the White House shares McConnell’s concerns about Moore. While few think Trump could persuade Moore to step aside, several are hoping he can convince the Alabama state party to take some action.
At a forum Tuesday organized by the Wall Street Journal, McConnell said Trump is discussing what to do in the Alabama race “in great detail.”
So far, the state GOP has taken a measured response. It’s too late to remove Moore’s name from the ballot. That leaves limited options.
The 21-member party steering committee could vote to revoke Moore’s GOP nomination and ask election officials to ignore ballots cast for him Election Day, but that would risk a lawsuit and backlash from Moore supporters. The party has little interest in alienating Moore’s followers a year before elections in which the governor’s office and entire state legislature will be in play.
Moore campaign chairman Bill Armistead said he’d seen no indication the state party will “back off in any way.” He said some in the party want it to pass a resolution embracing Moore.
If Moore is elected, top Senate Republicans are threatening to vote to expel him.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. McConnell and other Republicans have called for Alabama Senate GOP candidate Roy Moore to step aside in the wake of sexual-misconduct allegations.