A Roy Moore victory would put Senate GOP in a tough spot

Mitch McConnell and Roy Moore. (Photos: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters; Nicole Craine/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate candidate Roy Moore. (Photos: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters; Nicole Craine/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — If Republican Roy Moore defeats his Democratic opponent Doug Jones on Tuesday in Alabama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t necessarily be celebrating.

A Moore victory means the majority leader from Kentucky will be able to hold onto his slim two-vote majority, but the former judge brings to the Senate a toxic mix that few Senate Republicans are keen to accept.

Moore, who’s been accused by women of sexually touching one when she was 14 years old and of assaulting another when she was 16 years old — both when he was in his 30s — would likely enter the Senate under the cloud of an official ethics investigation into those allegations.

The Senate Ethics Committee could then recommend censure or even expulsion for Moore. But that would put Senate Republicans in the unhappy spot of voting to kick someone out for allegations the people of Alabama knew about before voting for him.

Expelling Moore would likely delight former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, who’s been stumping for Moore and criticizing McConnell as an “establishment” Washington figure who is out of touch with the GOP base. The move to boot out the Alabama people’s choice would help Bannon paint a picture of Washington Republicans trampling over the grassroots.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who runs the Senate GOP’s campaign fundraising arm, has said he believes the body should vote to expel Moore if he wins Tuesday. But other senators are wrestling with the question, wondering if it would be seen as an overreach.

Republican candidate Roy Moore
Republican candidate Roy Moore was seen as a shoo-in for a Senate seat, but allegations that he molested minors decades ago have dealt a blow to his campaign. (Photo: Joe Raedle/AFP)

“I think that’s the tough question,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said on “Face the Nation” Sunday. “If the allegations are known prior to the election, which they weren’t in the case of Al Franken, for example, then we have a very tough decision to make about whether it’s our role as senators to overturn the will of the people.”

But if Moore does remain in the body, he becomes a walking attack ad for any senator who associates with him.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, this is a terrible situation that Roy Moore has put Senate Republicans in,” said Alex Conant, a Republican political strategist who worked for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “He won’t find a lot of friends in the Senate if he wins. I don’t think anyone who ever wants to win a future campaign will want to closely associate with him.”

“He’ll be the gift that keeps on giving for Democrats,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Politico. “If you’re running in 2018, Roy Moore’s going to be your new best friend.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., one of the more vulnerable Senate Democrats in the next cycle, called Moore’s continued candidacy “a real head scratcher.”

The fact that the race looks close in one of the most Republican states in the country — and one that Trump won by 28 points — is a testament to Moore’s relative unpopularity. Right now, he leads Jones by just 2.2 points in an average of polls.

Alabama Democrat Doug Jones faces an uphill battle in the Senate race against Republican Roy Moore
A young supporter of Alabama Democrat Doug Jones, who faces an uphill battle in the Senate race against Republican Roy Moore.

If Moore wins Tuesday, he’ll receive an at-best chilly reception from his colleagues. Many of them have publicly called on him to step aside, including the senior senator from Alabama, Richard Shelby, who said he wrote in the name of another Republican in Alabama on his ballot rather than vote for him.

“I’m not going to help him, I’m not even going to vote for him,” Shelby said last week of Moore.

Asked if Moore would be assigned to important Senate committees if he wins, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, replied, “Hopefully we won’t be in that situation.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who is retiring, tweeted out a picture of a $100 donation to Jones.

Given there’s no love lost between Moore and his potential future Republican colleagues, the 70-year-old former judge will likely feel little pressure to vote with them, especially when it comes to the handful of legislative measures Senate Republicans have taken that Trump has disapproved of. Trump sent out angry tweets in July when senators nearly unanimously levied sanctions against Russia in retaliation for their meddling in the U.S. elections last year. Moore, who suggested Vladimir Putin was right that America is a “focus of evil in the world” in a news interview in August, would be unlikely to stick with his fellow Republicans on that issue in the future.

“I don’t think Roy Moore is going to feel much loyalty to other Republicans in the Senate,” Conant said.

But Moore doubtless will feel loyalty to the president, who alone has stood by him while other national and state Republicans fell off amid the allegations that he sexually pursued teenagers as an adult.

Trump cut a robocall in support of Moore in Alabama, saying that if he loses, the president’s agenda will be “stopped cold” in Washington.

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