Moore makes nice with Senate Republicans in trip to Capitol Hill

Moore makes nice with Senate Republicans in trip to Capitol Hill
© Greg Nash

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore met with the Senate GOP caucus on Tuesday, putting him face to face with the Republican establishment that he has railed against for months.

Moore, a former state judge, stopped by the party’s closed-door lunch, which is also attended by Vice President Pence, as part of a whirlwind tour of Capitol Hill.

The powwow marked the biggest indicator to date of establishment Republicans moving to accept Moore ahead of a special election in December to fill the seat vacated when Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump ramps up scrutiny of legal immigrants Data confirm that marijuana decriminalization is long overdue The FIRST STEP Act sets up a dangerous future MORE joined the Trump administration as attorney general.

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Moore defeated Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeRoby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism Once a Trump critic, Ala. rep faces runoff with his support Crowley surprise tops huge night for left MORE (R-Ala.) during a heated primary fight in September. The battle pitted former White House strategist Stephen Bannon against most GOP senators including Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi: 'Thug' Putin not welcome in Congress GOP to White House: End summit mystery Sunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight MORE (Ky.) as well as President Trump, who supported Strange.

Republicans said after the closed-door meeting Tuesday that Moore didn’t speak much during the lunch, beyond introducing himself.

“He said a few words, spoke to me. ... He was very professional,” Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyJuan Williams: Putin wins as GOP spins Five things to watch for in Trump-Putin summit GOP senators visited Moscow on July 4, warned Russia against meddling in 2018 election: report MORE (R-Ala.) told reporters.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Memo: Summit fallout hits White House Graham: Biggest problem is Trump ‘believes meddling equals collusion’ Obama, Bush veterans dismiss Trump-Putin interpreter subpoena MORE (R-Ariz.), a vocal Trump critic, said the conservative firebrand said “hello” to him. McConnell and Moore, whom the GOP leader has previously refused to support, also spoke during the lunch.

Asked about his meeting with the caucus, a spokesman for the Senate GOP leader noted that “candidates traditionally attend a policy lunch after they become the nominee” but declined to describe any interactions.

A spokesman for Moore's campaign declined to say who else Moore met with on Tuesday, except to note that he was meeting with other senators.

Despite actively opposing Moore during the GOP primary race, outside groups and Republicans are increasingly rallying around Moore ahead of the December special election.

As the Republican, Moore has long been expected to win in the deep-red state. But more recent polls have proved surprisingly close, with the RealClearPolitics polling index currently putting Moore up only 6 points over Democrat Doug Jones.

Moore’s visit to Capitol Hill wasn’t without controversy, with some of his potential colleagues unwilling to fully embrace him given his past rhetoric.

“I’ll examine his entire record before I decide. ... I’ll have to see what he has to say about his positions, and examine his record,” McCain told reporters when asked if he supported Moore.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains GOP to White House: End summit mystery The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia MORE (R-Ariz.), who is retiring after 2018, went after Moore during a Senate floor speech roughly an hour after the party’s lunch.

Flake echoed other's criticism of Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who has a penchant for making controversial comments. In 2006, for example, Moore suggested that Rep. Keith EllisonKeith Maurice EllisonOvernight Health Care: Novartis pulls back on drug price hikes | House Dems launch Medicare for All caucus | Trump officials pushing ahead on Medicaid work requirements House Dems launching Medicare for All Caucus Hillicon Valley: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | Sparks fly at hearing on social media | First House Republican backs net neutrality bill | Meet the DNC's cyber guru | Sinclair defiant after merger setback MORE (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to the House, shouldn’t be allowed to serve.

"When a judge expressed his personal belief that a practicing Muslim should not be a member of Congress because of his religious faith, it was wrong. That this same judge is now my party's nominee for the Senate from Alabama should concern us all," Flake said.

Flake, who has said he will not support Moore, added that “religious tests have no place in the United States Congress. Standing up for people of faith, whether Muslim or Catholic, who are facing unfair prejudice should be an act of basic conscience that should be expected of all of us, regardless of party."

Moore's stop by the GOP lunch put Republicans in an awkward position of facing questions about Moore while they simultaneously tried to criticize Democrats for questioning the nomination of Amy Barrett, a nominee for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, because of her religious beliefs.

Ellison, weighing in on the judicial vote, questioned if Republicans "know they’ve stood by a Senate candidate who thinks I shouldn’t be able to serve in Congress, simply because of my faith?"

And Senate Democrats quickly seized on Moore's lunch attendance, with Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzOn The Money: Trump rips Fed over rate hikes | Dems fume as consumer agency pick refuses to discuss border policy | Senate panel clears Trump IRS nominee Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials Senate to vote on resolution telling Trump not to hand over former diplomats MORE (D-Hawaii) calling Moore a "true moral danger." 

Pressed how they squared their criticism of Democrats with their support for Moore given his previous comments, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits MORE (R-Texas) noted this was one issue where most Senate Republicans would disagree with the candidate.

"I think just because you're a member of a political party doesn't mean you agree 100 percent," Cornyn, who endorsed Moore last week, told reporters. "So I would disagree with that statement and I dare say if you asked each one of the members up here, what they would feel about that, they would say the same thing."

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchPutin summit puts spotlight back on Trump's tax returns Lighthizer to testify before Senate next week as trade war ramps up Senators introduce bipartisan bill to improve IRS MORE (R-Utah) noted that he would support Moore as the GOP candidate and that he was a “nice guy.”

But pressed about his comments on homosexuals and Muslims serving in Congress, Hatch laughed before adding: “Well I have trouble with those [comments]."

Moore appeared to walk back some of his previous remarks on Tuesday, arguing that a “religious test” was unconstitutional.

"There should be no religious test, no. That's against the Constitution," Moore told reporters as he walked through the Senate basement.

He also took shot at the media, noting The Washington Post endorsed his opponent and arguing that national reporters portrayed him inaccurately.

"Well I'm a lot different than what The Washington Post has been printing," Moore told reporters. "I don't hate people."