By Alex Pappas, ,
Published November 14, 2017
Your move, President Trump.
That’s the feeling among Republicans as the party scrambles to deal with the political fallout involving Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore, who is denying allegations that he pursued sexual relationships with female teenagers while an attorney in his early thirties.
“President Trump should intervene in Alabama immediately,” said Scott Jennings, a Kentucky Republican who worked as an adviser to former President George W. Bush and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Moore is embarrassing the president and puts his agenda in jeopardy.”
The president returns to the White House – and the political storm the Republican Party is facing over Moore – Tuesday evening after a 12-day foreign trip through Asia.
When the accusations against Moore first surfaced in the Washington Post last week, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the president “believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside." But the president hasn’t weighed in much since then, telling reporters he has been too busy in Asia to follow the scandal.
Moore has denied all the allegations and has given no indication that he will drop out.
But as polls show Moore losing ground amid the accusations, Republicans are now watching to see how the president will respond.
He could side with Republicans who are condemning Moore and call on the candidate to drop out ahead of next month’s election.
He could put pressure on Moore by saying he would support his expulsion from the Senate if elected.
He could support a write-in effort, asking Alabama Republicans to support someone like Attorney General Jeff Sessions instead of Moore, whose name cannot be removed from the ballot.
Or he could choose not to intervene, bucking establishment Republicans and saying Moore’s future should be left to the voters in Alabama.
Some of Trump’s allies are encouraging Republicans outside of Alabama to stay out of the race.
“The people of Alabama get to pick who they want to have as the U.S. senator and the rest of us ought to be a little bit patient and let this play out for a while and see what happens,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Tuesday on “Fox and Friends.”
The idea of Sessions as a solution to the Moore problem, though, has picked up steam over the last day. And Republicans note that it could be an attractive move for Trump, who has expressed frustration with his attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
Sen. Richard Shelby, Alabama’s senior senator, told reporters Monday he believes Sessions would be a “strong” write-in candidate. McConnell, the majority leader, acknowledged this week he is exploring potential write-in options.
But on Monday, a source close to Sessions told Fox News the attorney general is not interested in leaving the Department of Justice to return to his old seat.
An avalanche of congressional Republicans – including both opponents and supporters of Moore – have called for Moore to drop out of the contest as more details have surfaced.
“He should step aside,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters Tuesday, adding that the “allegations are credible.”
"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"
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who previously endorsed Moore, said Monday he can no longer “urge the people of Alabama to support his candidacy so long as these allegations remain unrefuted.”
“If these allegations are true, Judge Moore should drop out now, today,” Cruz said.
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has warned that Republicans could take the extraordinary step of voting to remove Moore from the Senate even if he still wins.
“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.
The Senate has expelled just 15 members over its history, but they haven’t kicked out any of their colleagues since 1862.
While a growing number of conservatives are distancing themselves from Moore, Trump’s former White House adviser, Steve Bannon, suggested over the weekend the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice still has his backing and that of Breitbart News, the populist news site he leads.
“Until I see more evidence on Judge Moore, I’m sticking with him,” Bannon said.
All of these options include potential political considerations and consequences for the president.
Should Democratic nominee Doug Jones win, Republicans would see their slim majority in the Senate lose yet another seat, which could be problematic as lawmakers work to cobble together enough votes to pass tax reform legislation.
Should Moore win, Democrats could use him as a campaign issue against Republicans in 2018.
But there’s also the possibility of a political backlash in Alabama, where Trump remains popular but he could anger Moore’s supporters by moving to stop him.
Rep. Mo Brooks, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for the Senate seat, suggested he wasn’t interested in running as a write-in and said he still supports Moore despite the allegations.
“When I decide how to vote, I focus on the issues of national importance such as border security, deficit and debt, abortion and protection of the unborn and confirmation of good Supreme Court justices,” Brooks told Fox News on Monday. “On each of these issues, socialist Democrat Doug Jones will vote wrong and Roy Moore will vote right. That’s what compels me to vote for Roy Moore.”
Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to the Alabama seat after Sessions joined the Trump administration but lost in a runoff to Moore for the Republican nomination, has been discussed by several senators as a possible write-in candidate.
But Strange, who has Trump’s backing in the primary but still lost, suggested Monday he isn’t anxious to jump back into the contest.
"I was Roy Moore's opponent in the election. I made the case for me for the Senate and the voters decided to go in a different direction,” he said.
Added Strange: "I really don't want to get into any more speculation. It's kind of an unfolding story and we'll see how it develops."
Fox News’ Chad Pergram, Jason Donner and Jake Gibson contributed to this report.