McConnell: Roy Moore should step aside

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhite House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours The Memo: Trump's sea of troubles deepens McConnell: Trump's troop pull back in Syria a 'grave strategic mistake' MORE (R-Ky.) on Monday called for GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore to "step aside."

"I think he should step aside," McConnell said during a tax reform press conference in Louisville, Ky., when asked about the calls from his Senate colleagues for Moore to leave the race.

Moore has been under growing pressure from Republicans to drop out of the Senate race after The Washington Post published a story containing allegations that Moore pursued relationships with teenage girls.

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When pressed about the allegations, McConnell said, "I believe the women."

The Post's story last week detailed an account from Leigh Corfman, now 53, who said she had a sexual encounter with Moore in 1979, when she was 14 years old and he was 32.

The report also included accounts from three other women who said Moore attempted to court them around that time, when they were between 16 and 18 years old.

Moore in a tweet early Monday afternoon said McConnell is the person who should step aside.

“He has failed conservatives and must be replaced,” Moore said, using the hashtag “DrainTheSwamp.”

Even if Moore withdraws from the Senate race — something he has said he will not do — Republicans are stuck with his name remaining on the ballot.

The deadline for the party to remove Moore's name from the ballot passed in October, though Republicans could mount a write-in challenge. Republicans have also floated trying to move back the December special election date.

McConnell said Monday that the party is exploring a write-in bid, though he declined to say specifically who would be the candidate.

"That's an option we're looking at, whether or not there is someone who could mount a write-in successfully," he said. 

Pressed if Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeGOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries Roy Moore trails Republican field in Alabama The Hill's Morning Report — US strikes approved against Iran pulled back MORE (R-Ala.), who Moore defeated in the GOP primary runoff, would be the write-in candidate, McConnell added: "We'll see."

Moore has denied wrongdoing and threatened to sue the Post, arguing the story is politically motivated and aimed at damaging him ahead of the December special election.

McConnell and dozens of Senate Republicans immediately called on Moore to step aside last week "if these allegations are true."

GOP Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese Trump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom MORE (Utah) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (Maine) quickly backed McConnell's remarks Monday, with Hatch floating Strange as an alternative. 

"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 Strange is an excellent alternative," Hatch said in a tweet.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerBennet reintroduces bill to ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists GOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' The Hill's Morning Report - Dem debate contenders take aim at Warren MORE (R-Colo.), who leads the Senate GOP campaign arm, later called on the Senate to expel Moore if Moore wins December's special election.

"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 in a statement.

"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."

Republicans are increasingly retreating from the Alabama Senate candidate after he said during an interview on Sean Hannity's radio show that he may have dated girls in their late teens at that time in his life. 

Moore added that he did not “remember anything like that" and maintained that there was no inappropriate sexual behavior.

Despite the blowback nationally from Republican officials and lawmakers, Alabama Republicans have publicly defended Moore and warned that if he left the race it would hand the Senate seat to Democratic candidate Doug Jones.

Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan also pushed back against a write-in campaign, telling the Alabama Political Reporter that "it would be a serious error for any current elected GOP official or candidate to publicly endorse another party's candidate, an independent, a third party or a write-in candidate in a general election as well."

Moore is using the blowback from Republican lawmakers in his fundraising appeals, saying that "establishment Republicans are colluding with the Obama-Clinton Machine."

"Apparently Mitch McConnell and the establishment GOP would rather elect a radical pro-abortion Democrat than a conservative Christian as the next U.S. Senator from Alabama," Moore said in an email to supporters on Sunday night.

Republicans have a slim 52-seat majority in the Senate and have struggled to unite the caucus behind key agenda items, including repealing ObamaCare.

Though Moore has railed against Senate leadership as part of his campaign, losing the seat to a Democrat would likely make it harder for McConnell to get major legislation through the chamber.

– Updated at 3:31 p.m.