Trump draws criticism for position on Roy Moore

President Trump on Sunday drew criticism from fellow Republican lawmakers for his apparent support of Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, who has refused to drop out of the special election race despite mounting accusations of sexual misconduct.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE (R-S.C.), a prominent critic of Moore, described a losing situation for the GOP in the Alabama race, where Moore is slated to face off against Democrat Doug Jones on Dec. 12.

“If you think winning with Roy Moore is going to be easy for the Republican Party, you’re mistaken,” Graham said in a message to Trump during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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Graham said the decision to back Moore is ultimately up to Trump, and said the president appears to be tossing “a lifeline” to Moore.

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTrump seeks to quell Russia furor GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh Sens introduce bipartisan bill matching Zinke proposed maintenance backlog fix MORE (R-Ohio) in his own Sunday interview stuck to the position that Moore should exit the race, saying he would back a Republican other than Moore if he were an Alabama voter.

“I think that'd be better for the country and, you know, the election’s in a few weeks here, or in a couple weeks maybe, and, you know, there is a possibility for folks to do write-in candidates, so we’ll see but, no, I think it’d be best if he stepped aside,” Portman told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The remarks from the Republican senators contrast with Trump’s attitude toward Moore. The president has expressed himself in recent days after a lengthy silence following reports of the sexual misconduct allegations.

Trump is arguing the GOP cannot afford to lose the Alabama seat currently held by 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

“The last thing we need in Alabama and the U.S. Senate is a Schumer/Pelosi puppet who is WEAK on Crime, WEAK on the Border, Bad for our Military and our great Vets, Bad for our 2nd Amendment, AND WANTS TO RAISES TAXES TO THE SKY. Jones would be a disaster!” Trump wrote on Twitter early Sunday.

“I endorsed Luther Strange in the Alabama Primary. He shot way up in the polls but it wasn’t enough. Can’t let Schumer/Pelosi win this race. Liberal Jones would be BAD!” he added. Strange was Moore's primary opponent.

Senate Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have called on Moore to exit the race since The Washington Post first reported the allegations, one of which is that Moore in 1979 had sexual contact with a 14 year-old girl. Moore would have been 32 at the time.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk MORE (R-S.D.) took his criticism a step further, calling on Trump to stand with Republican lawmakers urging Moore to step out of the race.

"If Moore wins, there will immediately be an ethics investigation and he will be working under a cloud. He is a distraction," Thune told "Fox News Sunday."

"I would like to see the president come out and do what we’ve done, saying Moore should step aside," Thune said.

The president last week first appeared to break with the Senate GOP in comments to reporters at the White House, noting Moore’s denials and saying Republicans “don’t need a liberal person” in the upper chamber.

“He says it didn’t happen, ”Trump said to reporters. “You have to listen to him, also.”

Multiple women have come forward alleging various degrees of sexual misconduct against Moore, including assault, since the Post published its first story. The original reporting included women who said Moore pursued them when they were between 16 and 18 years old.

Moore has denied the accusation that he had sexual contact with a 14-year-old in 1979, but said in an interview after the first set of accusations that he may have dated women in their later teens at that point in his life.

Other lawmakers on Sunday downplayed the potential impact of Trump’s position on Moore, including Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs Congress should prioritize diversity so government reflects Americans MORE (R-S.C.), who said the president’s remarks about Moore do not necessarily compromise his moral authority.

“Well, there's certainly — I don't think so,” Scott told ABC’s “This Week.”

“I think the reality of it is that while I have read through as many stories as I could get my hands on, I think the issue in the case is compelling, I have reached the conclusion. I think there are many Americans who disagree with me vehemently. I don't necessarily understand how, but they do.”

Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockDemocrats can kiss swing voters goodbye with progressive ballot The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Dramatic battle looms after Kennedy’s retirement Election Countdown: Kennedy retirement shakes up midterms | Big primary night for progressives | Fallout from Crowley's defeat | Trump flexes his muscles in GOP primaries | The Hill's Latina Leaders spotlights 2018 candidates MORE (R-Va.), when questioned about Trump’s apparent backing of the Alabama Republican, reiterated that she believes Moore should exit the race.

“Well, I think we have a lot of — there's so much support, bipartisan support, that's going to be a political issue but I've already said that I think Roy Moore should step aside, the way Tim Scott did,” Comstock told ABC. “But it's important for us to focus on these victims.”

Moore has remained defiant despite losing support from key fundraising resources like the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee (RNC).

But RNC chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel in an interview noted that while the RNC pulled its resources due to the “concerning” accusations, Alabama will ultimately decide whether or not to send Moore to the Senate. 

"He is the candidate. The Alabama [Republican] Party has stood by that,” McDaniel told radio host John Catsimatidis. “Now the Alabama voters are going to have to be the judge and jury on this."

Polls since the allegations first came to light have shown that Jones is inching closer to Moore in the deep-red state, where a Democrat has not served as a senator since 1997, when former Sen. Howell Heflin retired.

One poll last week had Moore receiving 47 percent of the vote to Jones’s 45 percent.