Senate GOP running out of options to stop Moore
Senate Republicans are running out of options in their effort to replace Roy Moore as the party’s nominee in the Alabama Senate race.
In the past week, they tried to pressure Moore to drop out by siding with the women who accused him of sexual misconduct. He refused.
They tried to coax President Trump into calling for Moore’s ouster. Trump declined.
They tried to convince the Alabama Republican Party to disqualify Moore as the nominee or to schedule a new election. Those officials said no.
They tried to find a write-in candidate to challenge Moore, but their first choice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, signaled through allies he wasn’t interested.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), went so far as to call for a vote to expel Moore from the Senate should he win the Dec. 12 special election.
Nothing has worked. Moore is still in the race.
Senate Republicans are increasingly resigned to the idea that there’s nothing they can do to stop Moore from coming to Washington, short of hoping that Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate, wins the seat.
An NRSC poll leaked this past week showed Moore trailing Jones by 12 points, while a Fox News poll showed him behind by 8 points.
Should Jones win the race, it would reduce the Senate GOP majority to 51 votes and could imperil their ability to pass tax reform and other high priorities.
“While people in Alabama and in Washington hold out some hope that a change could happen between now and election day, that hope is quickly turning into concern that it may never happen,” said a Washington-based strategist close to the Senate GOP leadership about the prospect of replacing Moore as the nominee.
By midweek, the mere mention of Moore’s name prompted anguished looks and exasperated answers from Republican senators.
“I’m really done talking about Moore,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is usually happy to talk about any topic with the Capitol press corps.
“I’m not going to get in the middle of that, I got enough problems without that,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) when asked about the race.
“It’s up to Alabama,” he said.
The White House on Friday signaled that Washington Republicans should simply let the race take its course.
“At some point, we have to trust the people of Alabama to make the right decision,” White House legislative director Marc Short told CNN.
Short noted that Trump campaigned for Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), who lost to Moore in the primary, and argued that not much more could be done.
“Everyone here in D.C. wants to decide for them what to do. The president weighed in and it’s now up to them to make a decision,” he said.
The Alabama Republican Party this week signaled it remains firmly behind Moore.
The state party steering committee issued a statement that the allegations against Moore, which were first reported by The Washington Post, “are false.”
The committee stated it found “these allegations to be lies, slander, deceit and the politics of personal destruction” that have “been used time and time again to destroy lives and win political campaigns.”
Moore’s wife of more than three decades, Kayla Moore, declared at a press conference in Montgomery that her husband would not drop out of the race.
“He will not step down. He will not stop fighting for the people of Alabama,” she said.
She said the negative media coverage of Moore has come mostly from outside of the state.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) on Friday said she would vote for Moore despite the allegations. “We need to have a Republican in the United States Senate to vote on things like the Supreme Court justices, other appointments the Senate has to confirm and make major decisions,” she said.
One senior Republican senator on Thursday warned that voting to expel Moore would be a mistake, given that the voters of Alabama are already aware of the allegations against him.
“Who are we to expel someone who is duly elected by the voters? It raises constitutional issues,” the lawmaker said.
Article I of the Constitution empowers the Senate to “determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.”
But senators on both sides of the aisle say expelling Moore would require a thorough investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee, which now has its plate full with separate inquiries into Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has been accused of unwanted kissing and groping, and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who is accused by the Department of Justice of accepting bribes.
Gardner on Wednesday didn’t want to talk about Moore when he was asked about the latest effort to find a write-in replacement.
“I’ve made my statement on Alabama,” he said hastily before ducking into a meeting.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate, told reporters this week that after studying the law she has concluded that the Senate would have no choice but to seat Moore should the Alabama secretary of state certify his victory.
Stanley Brand, an expert in congressional ethics investigations, said a vote to expel Moore could run afoul of the 1969 Supreme Court Powell v. McCormack ruling, because Moore’s alleged misconduct took place before the election and was known to voters.
The court ruled nearly 50 years ago that the House acted unconstitutionally by voting overwhelmingly to exclude Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of New York because of alleged personal and financial misconduct.
“If the electorate votes for that member notwithstanding the conduct, the presumption is they’ve condoned or pardoned the conduct,” Brand said.
He noted the Supreme Court ruled in Powell v. McCormack that the qualifications for the Senate are fixed in the constitution and Moore meets them as a resident of Alabama over the minimum age requirement.
“You can’t refuse to seat a member who possesses those qualifications. That leaves open the issue of whether you could expel that member,” Brand said.
“If he’s elected by the people of Alabama, the presumption is they knew about the conduct and elected him notwithstanding,” he added. “They’re in a tough position in that they’re sailing into the teeth of a very tough Supreme Court precedent if they try to exclude or expel this guy.”