Senate Republicans are escalating their demands for embattled Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore to leave the race, including a growing faction calling for him to be expelled if he wins next month.
But some senior Republicans are wary that the chorus of anti-Moore sentiment from Washington will only embolden Moore and his supporters. The former Alabama Supreme Court justice won the Republican primary battering Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the GOP establishment.
Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, raised the specter of expulsion in a Monday statement. Later, retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters that he would support Democrat Doug Jones over Moore and that expelling Moore should remain on the table.
But other top party leaders weren’t as quick to embrace expelling Moore from the chamber, which has been attempted but not completed in well over a century and could raise serious questions about the Senate defying the will of voters. Other Republicans fear the precedent of booting a senator who hasn’t violated any Senate rules or facing criminal charges.
When asked about a potential expulsion vote, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who earlier said Alabama voters would have the “final judgment” on Moore, declined to weigh in and merely noted: “There hadn’t been an election yet.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said that if Moore is elected, “we will seat him.”
“What will happen then, none of us know,” Shelby said. He cautioned that before expelling a member, “there are a lot of steps that have to happen. You would look at all the evidence.”
Still, Shelby, who backed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) in the primary, said Monday’s news conference featuring another woman accusing the candidate of sexual assault was “very disturbing,” adding “she looked believable.”
The Senate Ethics Committee would take the lead in any expulsion proceedings if Senate Republicans decided to pursue that option. A senator can technically be expelled for any reason, according to former Senate historian Don Ritchie. Two-thirds, or 67 senators, would be needed to vote in favor for it to succeed. The last expulsion from the Senate happened in 1862.
The floodgates against Moore opened Monday morning, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in Louisville that he believes the women who have accused Moore of sexual misconduct and went further than he did last week in calling Moore to get out of the race.
“I think he should step aside,” McConnell said Monday, adding: “I believe the women, yes.”
Republicans are exploring their options, although they are extremely limited. GOP senators are increasingly talking up the possibility of a write-in campaign by Strange, though the appointed senator doesn’t appear to be interested and comes with his own baggage that led to his primary loss against Moore.
McConnell confirmed that party officials are also exploring whether to pursue a write-in bid to try to retain the Senate seat in the deeply conservative state. “We’ll see,” if it’s Strange, he said.
Strange said Monday night that “right now,” he was “highly unlikely” to pursue a write-in bid.
“I made my case during the election, now it’s really going to be up to people in our state to sort this out,” Strange said. “A lot of these allegations are new, it’s an unfolding story.”
Another name that has surfaced is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who held the Senate seat for two decades before his elevation to the Cabinet, though there is no indication he is interested in returning to the chamber.
The idea of removing Moore from office if he wins drew a range of responses from Republican senators.
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) tweeted that if Moore doesn’t withdraw immediately from the race, “we need to act to protect the integrity of the Senate.” A spokeswoman declined to elaborate whether the freshman senator meant expulsion.
But others were more explicit.
“I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate and he should not run for office,” Gardner said. “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.”
Several Senate Republicans have called on Moore to get out of the race since late last week, including Sens. Steve Daines of Montana, Mike Lee of Utah and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. On Monday, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said he agrees with McConnell and that Strange would be “an excellent alternative.”
Cornyn also announced Monday he was withdrawing his endorsement of Moore, adding that the best course of action is “to leave the final judgment in the hands of Alabama voters.”
“I have now read Mr. Moore’s statement and listened to his radio interview in which he denies the charges,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) tweeted Monday. “I did not find his denials to be convincing and believe that he should withdraw from the Senate race in Alabama.”
Collins later told reporters that talk about expelling Moore was “premature.”
But there are no signs the pressure from Washington will sway Moore, the defiant former judge who was twice removed from the state’s highest court.
Shortly after McConnell’s remarks on Monday, Moore’s campaign account tweeted: “The person who should step aside is @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced. #DrainTheSwamp.”
Polls had already shown a surprisingly close race between Moore and Jones even before the allegations broke. The most recently released survey, conducted by the Republican-leaning firm JMC Analytics and Polling, shows Jones leading Moore by 4 percentage points.
Democrats, who had already been closely watching the campaign and quietly deploying resources down south, are still concerned about any perception that the race will become nationalized and further galvanize Moore supporters.
“It’s an Alabama race that they’re running,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday. “They’re involved. If they ask us for things, we’re going to try to help them, but it’s an Alabama race that the Jones campaign is running on its own.”
Meanwhile, a fifth Alabama woman publicly accused Moore of misconduct on Monday afternoon.
Appearing with attorney Gloria Allred at a press conference in New York, Beverly Young Nelson recounted how Moore, now 70, assaulted her when she was a waitress at a restaurant that the then-district attorney of Etowah County frequented.
Fighting through tears, Nelson recounted how one night, Moore forced himself on her in his car behind the restaurant in Gadsden.
After she screamed at him to stop, she said, “Instead of stopping, he began squeezing my neck, attempting to force my head onto his crotch. I continued to struggle.”
“I thought he was going to rape me,” Nelson said.
“At some point he gave up,” she continued. “And he then looked at me and he told me, he said, ‘You’re just a child, and I am the district attorney of Etowah County, and if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you.”
After Nelson gave her statement, Allred presented Nelson’s high school yearbook from 1977, carrying a note from Moore, which is signed, “Roy Moore, D.A.” She was 15-years-old at the time. Allred said she had spoken with Nelson’s sister, mother, and husband, who all said they knew about the alleged assault.
Ahead of the press conference, Moore’s campaign chairman Bill Armistead released a statement aimed at trying to rebut the coming accusations.
“Gloria Allred is a sensationalist leading a witch hunt, and she is only around to create a spectacle,” Armistead said. “We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: Judge Moore is an innocent man and has never had any sexual misconduct with anyone.”
Gabriel Debenedetti contributed from New York, and Elana Schor from Washington.
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