by Alexander Bolton · November 13, 2017
Senate Republicans on Monday signaled that they will do whatever it takes to prevent Roy Moore from becoming the next senator from Alabama, though hopefully without letting the seat fall into Democratic hands.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called on Moore to withdraw from the Senate race and said he believes the women who are accusing the former judge of sexual misconduct.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), the leader of the campaign arm of Senate Republicans, went one step further, urging his colleagues to expel Moore from the Senate should he win the special election on Dec. 12.
“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,” Gardner said.
Together, the remarks pointed to an emerging strategy: oppose Moore’s candidacy, but find a way to keep the Senate seat in the Republican column.
Gardner’s statement appeared to be closely coordinated with what McConnell told reporters earlier in the day at a press conference in Louisville, Ky.
“I believe the women, yes,” McConnell said, calling on Moore to “step aside.”
McConnell’s remark was a shift from last week, when he said that Moore should withdraw from the race only if the accusations against him were true.
The unequivocal statement Monday gave the green light to other Republicans to oppose Moore, who is accused of having sexual encounters with women when they were teenagers.
“I’m sure it was coordinated,” a source close to the Senate GOP leadership said of McConnell and Gardner’s statements.
“McConnell is very aware of the experience of Todd Akin. He wins by ensuring that his members don’t have to spend the rest of 2018 talking about the age of consent,” the source added.
The storm around Moore only intensified Monday as a fifth woman, Beverly Young Nelson, publicly accused Moore of predatory behavior. She said at a press conference in New York that Moore assaulted and groped her when she was 16 years old; at the time, he was a district attorney in Etowah County.
To back her claim, she shared a yearbook inscription from 1977 in which Moore allegedly wrote, “To a sweeter more beautiful girl I could not say Merry Christmas” and signed his name after “love.”
McConnell is concerned that if Moore joins the Senate, he will become a millstone weighing down other Republican candidates in the midterm elections.
Strategists thought that former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who won the Missouri Senate Republican primary in 2012, hurt other Republican candidates when he declared that “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy.
“That’s why it’s important to get out in front of this,” said the source close to leadership. “There’s no way you can win this argument. And by the way, what this guy is accused of doing is not acceptable, so let’s not have a debate like you see in some corners of conservative media about whether it’s okay to date someone who is 16 or 17 or 18.”
Moore, however, is digging in his heels.
He fought back by calling on McConnell to resign and portrayed the allegations against him as part of a conspiracy.
“The person who should step aside is @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced,” Moore tweeted.
In a fundraising email to supporters over the weekend, Moore said the “Obama-Clinton machine,” billionaire George Soros, “radical left-wing foot soldiers,” and McConnell, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and the GOP establishment “are gunning for me with everything they’ve got.”
“It’s getting nasty,” he wrote. “It’s only going to get worse the closer it gets to election day.”
There’s little Senate Republican leaders can do to stop Moore’s election unless he withdraws his name from consideration or the state party disqualifies him, according to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.
There is no way to remove Moore from the ballot because people began absentee voting on Oct. 18.
State leaders could schedule a new election, but only if Moore withdraws from the race and still wins or if the state GOP disqualifies him as the nominee and he nevertheless emerges the victor.
In either scenario, the election results would be nullified, according to Merrill.
But if Moore drops out or is disqualified by the state GOP and the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, or a write-in candidate wins, the highest vote-getter would be declared the winner and the results would stand.
A GOP strategist familiar with Alabama politics said that Republican Gov. Kay Ivey and other state party officials would be reluctant to disqualify Moore because that would risk the wrath of his loyal supporters.
“She’ll let it settle itself,” the strategist said of Ivey.
That means McConnell’s best shot for keeping Moore out of office — while still keeping the Alabama seat in the GOP column — is for the Senate to hold a vote to expel or exclude him and have Ivey appoint a GOP replacement or schedule another special election.
The Senate has voted 15 times since 1789 to expel one of its members, which requires a two-thirds supermajority, or 67 votes.
It would be easier for McConnell to block Moore from taking the seat by voting to exclude him, something that traditionally requires only a majority vote.
The Senate has voted on six occasions by majority vote to exclude a member who had been seated, according to the Senate historical office. In at least two cases, the Senate has required a two-thirds vote to unseat a senator but fell short of reaching a majority both times.
The higher threshold of expulsion votes is usually reserved for senators who have served for a while in the upper chamber, but it’s a distinction that the Senate parliamentarian would likely have to settle.
McConnell told reporters that party leaders in Washington are looking at the option of finding a third person to run against Moore and Jones as a write-in candidate.
Gardner, however, told reporters that he has not yet spoken to anyone about waging a write-in campaign.
Other Republicans followed McConnell’s lead and pressed Moore to drop out of the race.
“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,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), referring to Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), who lost to Moore in the primary.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also called on Moore to drop out.
Graham suggested an expulsion vote for Moore is on the table if he wins the race.
“If he continues this will not end well for Mr. Moore,” Graham tweeted.