Senate Republicans on Monday signaled that they will do whatever it takes to prevent Roy Moore from becoming the next senator from Alabama, though hopefully without letting the seat fall into Democratic hands.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE (R-Ky.) called on Moore to withdraw from the Senate race and said he believes the women who are accusing the former judge of sexual misconduct.
Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior faces legal scrutiny for keeping controversial acting leaders in office | White House faces suit on order lifting endangered species protections | Lawmakers seek investigation of Park Police after clearing of protesters The Hill’s Campaign Report: Republicans go on attack over calls to ‘defund the police’ MORE (R-Colo.), the leader of the campaign arm of Senate Republicans, went one step further, urging his colleagues to expel Moore from the Senate should he win the special election on Dec. 12.
“If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate,” Gardner said.
Together, the remarks pointed to an emerging strategy: oppose Moore’s candidacy, but find a way to keep the Senate seat in the Republican column.
Gardner’s statement appeared to be closely coordinated with what McConnell told reporters earlier in the day at a press conference in Louisville, Ky.
“I believe the women, yes,” McConnell said, calling on Moore to “step aside.”
McConnell’s remark was a shift from last week, when he said that Moore should withdraw from the race only if the accusations against him were true.
The unequivocal statement Monday gave the green light to other Republicans to oppose Moore, who is accused of having sexual encounters with women when they were teenagers.
“I’m sure it was coordinated,” a source close to the Senate GOP leadership said of McConnell and Gardner’s statements.
“McConnell is very aware of the experience of Todd Akin. He wins by ensuring that his members don’t have to spend the rest of 2018 talking about the age of consent,” the source added.
The storm around Moore only intensified Monday as a fifth woman, Beverly Young Nelson, publicly accused Moore of predatory behavior. She said at a press conference in New York that Moore assaulted and groped her when she was 16 years old; at the time, he was a district attorney in Etowah County.
To back her claim, she shared a yearbook inscription from 1977 in which Moore allegedly wrote, “To a sweeter more beautiful girl I could not say Merry Christmas” and signed his name after “love.”
McConnell is concerned that if Moore joins the Senate, he will become a millstone weighing down other Republican candidates in the midterm elections.
Strategists thought that former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who won the Missouri Senate Republican primary in 2012, hurt other Republican candidates when he declared that “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy.
“That’s why it’s important to get out in front of this,” said the source close to leadership. “There’s no way you can win this argument. And by the way, what this guy is accused of doing is not acceptable, so let’s not have a debate like you see in some corners of conservative media about whether it’s okay to date someone who is 16 or 17 or 18.”
Moore, however, is digging in his heels.
He fought back by calling on McConnell to resign and portrayed the allegations against him as part of a conspiracy.
“The person who should step aside is @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced,” Moore tweeted.
In a fundraising email to supporters over the weekend, Moore said the “Obama-Clinton machine,” billionaire George Soros, “radical left-wing foot soldiers,” and McConnell, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Hill’s Campaign Report: Bad polling data is piling up for Trump Cindy McCain ‘disappointed’ McGrath used image of John McCain in ad attacking McConnell Report that Bush won’t support Trump reelection ‘completely made up,’ spokesman says MORE (R-Ariz.) and the GOP establishment “are gunning for me with everything they’ve got.”
“It’s getting nasty,” he wrote. “It’s only going to get worse the closer it gets to election day.”
There’s little Senate Republican leaders can do to stop Moore’s election unless he withdraws his name from consideration or the state party disqualifies him, according to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.
There is no way to remove Moore from the ballot because people began absentee voting on Oct. 18.
State leaders could schedule a new election, but only if Moore withdraws from the race and still wins or if the state GOP disqualifies him as the nominee and he nevertheless emerges the victor.
In either scenario, the election results would be nullified, according to Merrill.
But if Moore drops out or is disqualified by the state GOP and the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, or a write-in candidate wins, the highest vote-getter would be declared the winner and the results would stand.
A GOP strategist familiar with Alabama politics said that Republican Gov. Kay Ivey and other state party officials would be reluctant to disqualify Moore because that would risk the wrath of his loyal supporters.
“She’ll let it settle itself,” the strategist said of Ivey.
That means McConnell’s best shot for keeping Moore out of office — while still keeping the Alabama seat in the GOP column — is for the Senate to hold a vote to expel or exclude him and have Ivey appoint a GOP replacement or schedule another special election.
The Senate has voted 15 times since 1789 to expel one of its members, which requires a two-thirds supermajority, or 67 votes.
It would be easier for McConnell to block Moore from taking the seat by voting to exclude him, something that traditionally requires only a majority vote.
The Senate has voted on six occasions by majority vote to exclude a member who had been seated, according to the Senate historical office. In at least two cases, the Senate has required a two-thirds vote to unseat a senator but fell short of reaching a majority both times.
The higher threshold of expulsion votes is usually reserved for senators who have served for a while in the upper chamber, but it’s a distinction that the Senate parliamentarian would likely have to settle.
McConnell told reporters that party leaders in Washington are looking at the option of finding a third person to run against Moore and Jones as a write-in candidate.
Gardner, however, told reporters that he has not yet spoken to anyone about waging a write-in campaign.
Other Republicans followed McConnell’s lead and pressed Moore to drop out of the race.
“I stand with the majority leader on this. These are serious and disturbing accusations, and while the decision is now in the hands of the people of Alabama, I believe Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeThe biggest political upsets of the decade State ‘certificate of need’ laws need to go GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE is an excellent alternative,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchBottom line Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah), referring to Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), who lost to Moore in the primary.
Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRepublicans prepare to punt on next COVID-19 relief bill Trump tweets spark fresh headache for Republicans Trump’s tweet on protester sparks GOP backlash MORE (R-Maine), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungGOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: BIO’s Michelle McMurry-Heath says 400 projects started in 16 weeks in biotech firms to fight virus, pandemic unemployment total tops 43 million Is the ‘endless frontier’ at an end? MORE (R-Ind.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op MORE (R-S.C.) also called on Moore to drop out.
Graham suggested an expulsion vote for Moore is on the table if he wins the race.
“If he continues this will not end well for Mr. Moore,” Graham tweeted.
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