Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that Republicans were examining options to prevent Roy Moore from becoming a U.S. senator. But some GOP senators acknowledged there isn’t much more they can do with Moore refusing to step aside.
GOP lawmakers have called on Moore to withdraw his nomination in the special election for the seat vacated by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions following a bombshell Washington Post story. The Post reported that four women accused Moore of sexual advances while they were teenagers and he was in his thirties. Another woman said Monday that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16 years old.
With the election just four weeks away, Senate Republicans acknowledged that their options are limited. Will they unite and say he would be expelled from the Senate if elected? Will they draft and support a write-in candidate? Right now there does not appear to be a consensus on the next steps.
Asked Tuesday if there was any agreement among Republicans on how to proceed, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said, “Nope, just hoping he’ll drop out.”
And was there anything else Senate Republicans could do to pressure Moore to do so?
“No,” Flake said.
McConnell said at a Tuesday press conference that he had discussed the situation with President Donald Trump, who was traveling in Asia, Vice President Mike Pence, and Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly.
“[Moore]’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,” McConnell said. “Obviously this close to the election it’s a very complicated matter.”
But Moore has signaled he does not intend to drop out of the race. Shortly after McConnell’s press conference, Moore’s campaign account tweeted, “The good people of Alabama, not the Washington elite who wallow in the swamp, will decide this election! #DitchMitch.”
With Moore refusing to back down, GOP senators had varied responses to questions Tuesday about how they could do to ramp up pressure on him to step aside.
“I don’t think there’s anything you can do,” said Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Lousiana who has withdrawn his support of Moore.
“Say he can’t be seated. That he can’t be seated, he should not be a member of the United States Senate. That’s what Republican senators can do,” said Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain.
McCain declined to delve into a specific hypotheticals about whether the Senate should vote to expel Moore if he is elected. That process would likely go through the Senate Ethics Committee.
Only a few senators have agreed to talk about that possibility, including Flake and Colorado GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, the chairman of the Senate GOP campaign arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Asked if he was encouraging his colleagues to also talk about expulsion to increase pressure on Moore, Gardner said, “I think every member will do what they believe is right for their districts, so they’re going to have to reach their conclusions.”
Some senators declined to comment on the possibility of expelling Moore, who will face Democrat Doug Jones in the Dec. 12 election.
“I think that’s something we’re going to have to look at based on the outcome, but I haven’t taken any position one way or the other because that gets into a process that involves Ethics and a number of other things,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican.
McConnell continued to say on Tuesday that one possibility was to support a write-in candidate.
“Obviously from a Republican point of view we would hope to save the seat, and that might require a write-in,” McConnell told reporters. “And all of those things are under discussion.”
But that would be a tall order for any GOP candidate with the election a few weeks away. Terry Lathan, the chairwoman of the Alabama GOP, has also warned GOP officials against supporting a write-in candidate.
McConnell suggested Sessions could “fit the mold” for a write-in candidate. But it’s not clear Sessions would give up his Cabinet position or if he would be successful, since Moore’s name would still be on the ballot.
Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to the seat after Sessions left, said Monday it was unlikely he would wage a write-in campaign. He lost to Moore in the GOP primary and runoff.
Swarmed by reporters off the Senate floor Tuesday night, Strange was asked whether anything had changed.
With a laugh he said, “I’ll defer to my colleague from Alabama,“ pointing the state’s senior GOP senator, Richard C. Shelby, who had also walked off the floor. The pair headed into a nearby elevator.
Shelby backed Strange in the primary and has said he wants Moore to step aside.
“Our best shot was to elect Luther in the primary,” Shelby said, responding to a question about how Republicans could turn the race around, as the elevator doors began to close.
Joseph P. Williams contributed to this report.