November 15, 2017
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Republicans are raising the pressure on Roy Moore to abandon his bid to be Alabama’s next senator, as they fear sexual misconduct allegations against him could endanger their tax reform agenda in Congress by tipping the seat to the Democrats.
Mr Moore has vowed to stay in the race, denying that he initiated sexual relationships with multiple teenage girls when he was in his thirties. He claims the allegations have been concocted by Democrats, liberal media and the Washington “swamp” to keep him out of power.
“They’ve spent over $30m to try and take me out, they’ve done everything they could, and now they’re together to try to keep me from going to Washington,” Mr Moore told a crowd of supporters at an Alabama church on Tuesday night.
Republican leaders are plotting how to hold on to the Alabama seat that formerly belonged to attorney-general Jeff Sessions as polls show a tightening race between Mr Moore and Democratic candidate Doug Jones.
An Emerson College survey, conducted between November 9 and 11, showed Mr Moore’s lead in the race had dropped from 22 points in September to just 10 points. The survey was conducted before a fifth woman came forward, alleging in a televised press conference that Mr Moore had sexually assaulted her when she was 16, and displaying her high school yearbook that he had signed at the time.
Mr Moore has offered a blanket denial of all the allegations — including the accusation that he tried to initiate a sexual relationship with a girl when she was 14 and he was 32.
The Cook Political Report, a non-partisan political newsletter, now characterises the race between Mr Moore and Mr Jones as a toss-up.
The Moore scandal could imperil Republican efforts to overhaul the US tax code for the first time since 1986 as the party strives to give Mr Trump a first major legislative victory.
Party leaders in the Senate and the House of Representatives were already rushing to deliver a tax bill to the president for him to sign before the end of this year, but their timeframe has been shortened with the Alabama special election looming on December 12.
Republicans operate on a razor-thin majority with 52 senators, meaning just three defectors could stop them from passing tax reform. If a Democrat were elected in Alabama it would spell disaster, reducing their margin of error to one in a party that perennially struggles to keep ultra-conservatives and moderates on board.
Many voters in Alabama have already cast absentee ballots meaning it is already too late to remove Mr Moore’s name from the ballot. Instead, Republican leaders could field a write-in candidate, including Mr Sessions himself.
“The name being the most often discussed may not be available, but the Alabaman who would fit that standard would be the attorney-general, who is totally well-known and extremely popular in Alabama,” Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday.
Were the former Senator to resume his old position it could solve two problems for the White House. It would rid Mr Trump of an attorney-general he has repeatedly expressed disappointment in, and possibly remove the need for a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the US election, which has been a persistent irritant to the president. The new attorney-general would not need to recuse himself from the Russia investigation as Mr Sessions had.
Republicans could also nominate Luther Strange, who is currently serving as the senator from Alabama but lost to Mr Moore in September’s Republican primary.
If Mr Moore does drop out, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has the power to postpone the special election vote, although so far her office has indicated she would not do so.
Mr McConnell indicated this week that were Mr Moore to win, Republican senators would immediately begin the process of expelling him from the Senate. This would probably begin with an inquiry by the Senate Ethics Committee, in which both Mr Moore and the women who had levelled accusations against him would testify under oath.
Should Mr Moore be expelled, Ms Ivey would then have the opportunity to appoint Mr Moore’s replacement, be it Mr Strange, Mo Brooks, a conservative Alabama Republican currently in the House of Representatives, or even Mr Sessions.
While the White House has not commented on the allegations surrounding Mr Moore since the weekend, other conservatives who have backed the candidate in the past have started to withdraw their support.
On Tuesday night, Sean Hannity, the Fox News television host, suggested he would withdraw his support for Mr Moore within 24 hours if Mr Moore could not provide an explanation for “inconsistent answers” to the accusations.
“If he can’t do this, Judge Moore needs to get out of the race,” Mr Hannity said.
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