Top Republicans are demanding U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore withdraw from the special election in Alabama amid allegations of sexual misconduct, and now GOP leaders are actively brainstorming strategies to put a new man on the ballot or even eject Moore from the Senate, should he win the race.
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As WND reported, a fifth woman came forward Monday to accuse Moore. Beverly Young Nelson alleges Moore sexually assaulted her in 1977 when she 16 and working as a waitress in a restaurant in Moore's hometown of Gadsden, Alabama. Nelson said she didn't speak out previously because she feared Moore and his power but was inspired by the others who recently came forward.
Moore is the Republican nominee in a special election Dec. 12 for the Alabama U.S. Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Polls show Moore's significant lead has evaporated in the wake of the allegations, with some showing him behind and others with a narrow lead over Democratic nominee Doug Jones. If Moore loses his bid for the Senate seat to Jones, the GOP's Senate majority will wither to only one seat. And that predicament threatens passage of tax reform and other major initiatives before the midterm election in 2018.
Last week, the Washington Post cited four women who claimed the former judge dated them when he was in his 30s and they were teens, with one charging he initiated a sexual encounter when she was 14. On Monday, Moore vowed that he will sue the Post over its report, which he called an "attack on my character and reputation because they are desperate to stop my political campaign."
The deadline has already passed for Moore to withdraw from the race and be replaced on the ballot. In any case, Moore has repeatedly denied the sexual misconduct allegations and said he has no intention of dropping out. On Tuesday afternoon, he tweeted: "The good people of Alabama, not the Washington elite who want to wallow in the swamp, will decide this election! #DitchMitch."
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Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claims he has spoken to Trump about the situation and will have "further discussions" with the president upon his return from Asia Tuesday.
So just what options does the Republican Party have for dealing with the upcoming election? The following is a list of five options being discussed by GOP leadership and in the media.
Let voters decide and stay out of it altogether
Some argue that the GOP should simply let the voters decide Moore's political fate.
But this may be the least likely option of all, given the public spectacle of the allegations against Moore and the outspokenness of many top GOP leaders who demand he quit the Senate race. By Tuesday afternoon, the Republican National Committee had cut its fundraising ties with Moore, according to FEC filings. Some Republicans even called on President Trump to intervene in the matter.
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However, recent news reports indicate many Republican voters in Alabama say they are standing by Moore. Some tell CNN they don't believe the 40-year-old allegations. Others say they want more evidence of assault before they withdraw their support. One man suggested Moore should be offered a lie-detector test. Others said they believe Moore is a different man than he was four decades ago.
On Tuesday, Pat Buchanan, author, columnist and twice a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, claimed the Washington Post's article was a "kill shot" against Moore.
"I will say, I agree with some of those folks in Alabama," Buchanan told Fox News' Neil Cavuto. "This stuff comes out one month before the election. It's the Washington Post. They've been digging on this thing with all these folks. This is a kill shot aimed at Roy Moore. I'm not saying it's untrue what they've been writing, but there's no doubt about the motivation. This is to try to get rid of a Republican Senate seat in Alabama. More facts are going to be coming out, and I would just say, let the folks in Alabama decide this in December."
Watch Buchanan's comments:
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Of course, Alabama voters generally don't vote for Democrats. A Democrat hasn't won a Senate race in the state since 1992. And a Democratic Party presidential candidate hasn't captured the state's vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
But just months before the heat of 2018 midterms, many Republican lawmakers fear the Akin effect, which they say dogged them during the 2012 election. During a TV interview, Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., had suggested a woman's body could shut down a potential pregnancy during a "legitimate rape," and the mainstream media went into a frenzy over his comments. Akin's own party turned on him, and he lost his bid to unseat Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill. However, the fallout didn't end there. During the 2012 election campaign, many Senate contenders in tight races were slammed with questions about Akin and his views. Party leaders have claimed Akin's comments helped prevent the GOP from gaining control of the Senate that year.
Just recently, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler didn't appear to help Moore when he cited the Bible in defense of the Senate candidate after a woman claimed he sexually assaulted him when she was 14 and he was 32. Zeigler reportedly told the Washington Examiner: "Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager, and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus."
Now the Washington Post claims some GOP leaders are worried about all the questions they'll be getting about Moore and the allegations against him.
"I'm prepping my candidate for what he is going to say if he is asked," a GOP campaign manager for a 2018 race told the Post. "At the very least, it is something that everyone is going to have to answer: Do you think Roy Moore at the age of 32 with a 14-year-old is like Mary and Joseph?"
Back write-in candidate against own nominee
Several reports have indicated some Republican senators support a write-in campaign by Sen. Luther Strange, who now holds the seat, or another Republican.
McConnell even appeared to float the idea of promoting Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a write-in candidate for his old Senate seat. A write-in candidate would likely face both Moore and Jones in the special election on Dec. 12.
"Some Senate Republicans have encouraged Mr. Strange — who lost to Mr. Moore in a bitterly contested Republican runoff election in September — to run as a write-in candidate, an option Mr. Strange is considering, according to Republicans who have spoken with him," the New York Times reported. "But some Republicans believe he would do little more than play spoiler, ensuring either that Mr. Moore is elected by taking votes Mr. Jones would otherwise get or that the Democrat wins by siphoning support from Mr. Moore among Republicans seeking a palatable third option."
Both McConnell and Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, discussed this option with Strange on Thursday after a fifth woman came forward with allegations against Moore.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala., who won her 2010 re-election as a write-in candidate, is reportedly planning to go over this strategy with Strange this weekend.
When the Times questioned McConnell about this option Friday, before the latest allegation emerged Monday, the Senate majority leader appeared to be hopeful that Moore might withdraw. He said, "You'd have to ask Luther what his intentions are, given this development."
In an apparent response to McConnell's calls for Moore to leave the race, Moore tweeted Monday: "The person who should step aside is @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced. #DrainTheSwamp."
"Republicans in Washington and Alabama have also approached other potential candidates about a write-in effort, including Representative Robert B. Aderholt, a mainstream conservative from northern Alabama," the Times reported. "But it is unclear that any prominent Republican will be willing to mount a wild-card campaign for the Senate unless Mr. Moore stands down first."
By Tuesday – the same day McConnell claimed he had been discussing the Alabama Senate race with Trump – McConnell appeared to be promoting the idea of electing Sessions to the Senate seat as a write-in candidate, saying Sessions "would fit the profile" of someone who might have a viable write-in bid.
"He's totally well-known and extremely popular in Alabama," McConnell said at a Wall Street Journal event.
However, any write-in candidate risks splitting the GOP and evangelical votes and possibly swinging the Senate race to Democrat Doug Jones.
Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan told ABC News that GOP officials would be making a big mistake if they backed a write-in candidate.
"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," she told ABC. "I have heard of no Alabama GOP elected official or candidate that is even considering this option."
Lathan said so-called sore-loser rules prevent Sen. Strange or Rep. Mo Brooks from qualifying for the ballot, since they lost their bids in the GOP primary.
"This committee reserves the right to deny ballot access to a candidate for public office if in a prior election that person was a Republican office holder and either publicly participated in the primary election of another political party or publicly supported a nominee of another political party," Lathan said.
Elect Moore and deny him a Senate seat
If Moore remains in the race and wins his bid for the Senate, then lawmakers could try to deny him a seat. How? They'd simply refuse to swear him in.
But this move is extremely risky, as Moore would likely win a legal battle.
There is a high-court precedent protecting Moore in this instance. In 1966, members of the U.S. House refused to swear in Rep. Adam Clayton Powell due to allegations of corruption. Powell, who was chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, was accused of mismanaging the committee funds, vacationing abroad on the taxpayers' dime and missing committee meetings. Powell also refused to pay a slander judgment against him.
The House declared Powell's seat vacant and attempted to fine him. So Powell took his case to the Supreme Court, and the court sided with him in an eight-to-one vote.
The problem? The Court said Congress is not authorized to add to the Constitution's list of qualifications for a member to serve.
However, once the member is elected and seated, it's a whole different ballgame.
Elect Moore, hold hearings and vote on expulsion from Senate
If Moore wins his bid, then lawmakers could try to expel him from the Senate. This extraordinary, long-shot step hasn't been taken since the Civil War.
The U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 5, Clause 2) says the Senate and House may "punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member."
The Senate has expelled 15 members. Fourteen of those expelled members were backers of the Confederacy. The Senate hasn't expelled a member in more than 150 years, since 1862.
This option might allow for hearings and give Moore an opportunity to publicly face his accusers and defend himself.
When the New York Times asked McConnell about the option, the Senate majority leader didn't say outright that he'd support the move. However, McConnell reminded the Times about a situation in which he mounted a campaign to expel Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., who had been accused by several women of sexual harassment and abuse in 1995.
"I ended up making a motion to expel the chairman of the Finance Committee of my own party, which was approved unanimously, and he subsequently resigned," McConnell said. "So character does count in America and in the United States Senate."
One supporter of this option appears to be Sen. Gardner. If Moore were to be expelled, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey would appoint an interim senator to the seat.
Some reports Monday indicated there's a push by at least two unnamed White House officials to appoint Attorney General Jeff Sessions to his old Senate seat if Moore is ousted. However, Sessions doesn't appear to be interested in returning to the Senate.
ABC News reports one White House official insisted that President Trump still has confidence in Sessions as attorney general. And a source close to Sessions told Fox News, "The attorney general has informed people in Alabama that he has no interest" in returning to the Senate.
In any case, for this strategy to have any chance, Moore must first win his race for the Senate, even in the face of opposition from his own party.
Delay the election and find a Trump-endorsed candidate
This option is favored by several Republicans who want Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to delay the special election until next year. As of right now, the 76-day withdrawal window has closed and another candidate cannot appear on the ballot in Moore's place. But, according to this line of thought, delaying the election until next year could solve that problem.
The delay tactic is legal in Alabama, as state law allows governors to select the dates of special elections. However, with an election just four weeks away, this option may violate federal voting rights law.
Ivey has already rescheduled the Senate election once and could do so again. However, she has indicated she would like a show of White House support before she takes such a major step. On Tuesday, she indicated the election will take place, as scheduled, on Dec. 12.
"The election will be on December the 12th, and I will hold judgment until we get more of the facts," Ivey said, according to AL.com. "People of Alabama need to know the facts.
"Based on what I know now, yes I will vote for him. But we don't have the facts. There may be some more facts to come out. But he is the party's nominee."
In theory, the move to delay the election would give the party more time to find a replacement for Moore, preferably one endorsed by President Trump. In the meantime, Republicans would try to convince Moore to exit the race.
And if Moore doesn't exit willingly, the GOP may wind up in an ugly court battle with Moore and his supporters.