GOP effort to oust Roy Moore from Senate race grows
By Sean Sullivan and Michael Scherer and Paul Kane
Nov 14, 2017 | 11:10 PM
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called on Roy Moore to withdraw from the Dec. 12 special election. (Nov. 14, 2017) (Sign up for our free video newsletter here http://bit.ly/2n6VKPR)
The chorus of national Republican leaders speaking out against Alabama GOP nominee Roy Moore after allegations of sexual misconduct grew louder Tuesday, with House Speaker Paul Ryan joining the effort to oust him from the Senate race and Attorney General Jeff Sessions voicing confidence in Moore's accusers.
But this growing criticism has yet to sweep over key Republicans in Alabama, many of whom are standing by the former judge or staying silent on the controversy.
The sharply contrasting reactions coming out of Washington and Alabama underscore the challenge Republican leaders face as they try to force Moore out of the race and enlist a candidate who can defeat his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, so neither of the current candidates winds up joining the Senate. The division only appears to be hardening Moore's resolve to push forward with his candidacy as he portrays his critics as the establishment figures he has made the villains of his campaign from the beginning.
"The good people of Alabama, not the Washington elite who wallow in the swamp, will decide this election! #DitchMitch," Moore tweeted Tuesday, making a reference to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who on Tuesday again called on him to drop out of the race.
Republican officials in Alabama continued to express skepticism about the accusations made against Moore, saying that they are still waiting for the evidence to back up the allegations.
"As of today, with the information that's been introduced to me, and if these charges are not proven to be true, then I would continue to support and vote for Judge Moore," said Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, R, in a Tuesday interview with CNN.
Others in the state said that there is little that can be done, as the Dec. 12 election to fill the seat vacated by Sessions earlier this year approaches.
"I don't see anything the party can do," said Alabama state Rep. Mike Ball, a Republican from Madison County. "It's too damn late."
Party officials in Washington this week have ramped up efforts to get Moore to drop out, in hopes that a write-in candidate can save the seat for Republicans.
"He should step aside," Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. "Number one, these allegations are credible. Number two, if he cares about the values and people he claims to care about, then he should step aside."
Speaking at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday morning, Sessions said he had "no reason to doubt" the women who have made the allegations against Moore.
The Republican National Committee on Tuesday pulled out of a joint fundraising committee with Moore's campaign, according to a document filed with the Federal Election Commission. The decision by the national party follows a similar move Friday by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which ended its financial relationship with Moore.
Now, the Alabama Republican Party is the only other GOP entity that is participating in Moore's fundraising efforts.
McConnell also suggested Tuesday at event hosted by the Wall Street Journal that Moore faces the threat of being expelled from the Senate if he is elected - a process that would begin with a Senate Ethics Committee inquiry in which both he and his accusers would give sworn testimony.
"It would be a rather unusual beginning, probably an unprecedented beginning," McConnell said.
Two women have accused Moore, 70, of initiating unwanted sexual encounters with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Leigh Corfman told The Washington Post that she was 14 at the time of the alleged encounter. Beverly Young Nelson said at a news conference Monday that she was 16 when Moore allegedly sexually assaulted her and bruised her neck. Moore has denied the allegations.
Three other women interviewed by The Post in recent weeks said that Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18, while he was in his early 30s. None of the three women said that Moore forced them into any sort of relationship or sexual contact. Moore has declined to rule out that he may have dated girls in their late teens when he was in his 30s, but he has said that he did not remember any encounters.
Neither Corfman nor any of the other women sought out The Post. While reporting a story in Alabama about supporters of Moore's Senate campaign, a Post reporter heard that Moore allegedly had sought relationships with teenage girls. Over the ensuing three weeks, two Post reporters contacted and interviewed the four women. Nelson made her allegations against Moore after the Post article was published.
On Tuesday night, a defiant Moore spoke in Jackson, a small city in rural south Alabama, before a supportive church audience. The attacks he'd faced - "28 days before an election," he added - came from a political establishment that was out to get him.
"Obviously I've made a few people mad," said Moore. "I'm the only one who can unite Democrats and Republicans, because I'm opposed by both. They've done everything they could, and now they are together to try to keep me from going to Washington."
Moore, who told his audience that he did not prepare a speech, veered from outrage at the coverage of his personal life to allegories and Bible quotes. He described a country in spiritual decline, said that the government "started creating new rights in 1965," and accused both the media and his accusers of "harassing" him.
At one point, Moore suggested that he might lose the election. "I want to take the truth of God to Washington," he said. "If it's not God's will, then I pray I don't be put in that position, if that's what he wants."
But Moore never suggested that he might leave the race. Moore left the crowd at Walker Springs Road Baptist Church with a patriotic poem, a standby in his campaign speeches.
"I wrote this many years ago, but I did not know how much I would need it one day," said Moore.
Sessions did not say whether Moore should be seated if he wins the special election to fill the seat he held before he joined President Donald Trump's Cabinet, even as some lawmakers in both parties have said that he should be expelled from the Senate. Ethics personnel at the Justice Department have advised him not to involve himself in the campaign, he said.
Still, a growing number of Republicans believe that the best way to salvage the seat is for Sessions to run as a write-in candidate.
At an event hosted by the Wall Street Journal, McConnell said Sessions fits the "mold" of someone who could win as a write-in contender.
It is too late to remove Moore's name from the ballot. The state party has the ability to disqualify him, thereby preventing any votes for him from being certified. National GOP strategists believe that if they can persuade local officials to take that step, an 11th-hour write-in campaign might be successful.
But if that doesn't happen, some Republicans are pessimistic that a write-in effort would have a realistic chance, even with a popular and well-known figure such as Sessions. Instead, it could have the effect of splitting the GOP vote and opening the door for Jones to win, which would narrow the Republican advantage in the Senate to 51 to 49.
For now, Alabama GOP leaders, including Gov. Kay Ivey and state Republican Party Chair Terry Lathan, are not trying to shove Moore aside, and some Republican members of the Alabama's congressional delegation have been reluctant to opine on the situation.
"Not going to say anything about it right now," said Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., as he left a meeting of House Republicans on Tuesday morning.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who has said Sessions would make a "strong" write-in candidate, suggested Tuesday it was likely that there are many Alabama voters who are "just as concerned" with Moore's alleged behavior as there are staunch defenders of the former judge.
Hugh McInnish, a former Madison County GOP chairman, said he carefully watched the Monday news conference with attorney Gloria Allred and Nelson three times on YouTube, even calling his wife over because, he said, she is "frequently more perceptive than me."
"It was all a put-on," McInnish concluded. He said that any "sane, mature person" who looked at the facts of the allegation would have questions. "A man trying to make time with a woman proceeds to choke her? It makes not one iota of sense."
"I don't think it's going to fly in Alabama," he added, though he said that he knew of other Republicans who had been concerned by the allegations.
Several Republicans with a close eye on the race said Tuesday that they believed key members of the state party might meet to formally discuss Moore's campaign this week. A spokeswoman for the state party did not respond to a request for comment.
McConnell told reporters Tuesday that he spoke with Trump by phone Friday to discuss Moore's campaign, and in subsequent days talked about it with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Vice President Pence.
"Obviously this close to the election, it's a very complicated matter. And I think once the president and his team get back, we'll have further discussions about it," McConnell said.
Trump, who has been traveling in Asia, has been relatively quiet on Moore. He was set to return to Washington late Tuesday.
Trump was accused of sexual harassment during his campaign, claims that the White House has denied, in an issue that is starting to resurface amid the allegations against Moore.
Asked at his weekly news conference whether he believes the women who have accused Trump, McConnell, who has said that he trusts the women who have made allegations about Moore, declined to answer.
"We're talking about a situation in Alabama," he said. "And I'd be happy to address that."