Alabama is holding its special election for a US Senate seat on December 12
Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate and an ambitious agenda
The White House isn’t saying that President Donald Trump supports Roy Moore. But Trump’s aides are openly acknowledging something close: They need Moore’s Republican vote in the Senate.
“I’m telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said when asked on “Fox & Friends” whether Alabamians should vote for Moore in next month’s special election. It was a major reversal four days after she said on the same program that “no Senate seat is worth more than a child.”
Hours later, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that Trump is leaving it up to Alabama voters to sort through the sexual allegations facing Moore.
But she acknowledged Moore’s party affiliation is a factor, saying that “the President wants people both in the House and the Senate that support his agenda.”
By refusing to intervene ahead of Alabama’s December 12 special election, Trump is rejecting Senate Republican leaders’ view that a Moore victory would bring disastrous consequences for the GOP’s brand and needs to be stopped at all costs.
At least eight women have accused Moore of sexually assaulting them or pursuing sexual relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s – including a woman who described in vivid detail Moore’s pursuit of her as a 14-year-old on NBC’s “Today” on Monday morning.
Trump personally has treaded carefully. He hasn’t attacked Moore – even as he took to Twitter to assail Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, after a woman said he had groped and kissed her without her consent before he was a senator.
“He doesn’t know who to believe. I think a lot of folks don’t,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said of Trump during a Sunday appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Explaining Trump’s tweets attacking Franken, Mulvaney said, “Franken admits it and Roy Moore denies it. So I do think that puts them in two different categories.”
White House legislative director Marc Short, during a Sunday appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” suggested that Trump hasn’t campaigned in Alabama because of the credibility of the allegations facing the 70-year-old Moore.
“If he did not believe that the women’s accusations were credible he would be down campaigning for Roy Moore. He has not done that,” Short said.
He added: “But he’s also concerned that these accusations are 38 years old.”
Short demurred when asked whether Trump supports Moore. “I think he thinks at this point it is best for the people of Alabama to make the decision for their state,” he said.
Sanders similarly deflected on Monday when asked whether Trump supports Moore and wants to see him win.
“The President feels that it’s up to the people of Alabama to make that determination who their next senator will be,” Sanders said.
Asked again, she acknowledged that “the President wants people both in the House and the Senate that support his agenda.” But she added: “We certainly think that this is something that the people of Alabama should decide, and I’m not going to be able to weigh in anything further than those comments.”
The White House’s interest in Moore’s vote – but not Moore himself – comes with Trump’s push for tax reform facing uncertain prospects in the Senate. Already, Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, has said he opposes the current bill, and Trump has attacked Sen. Jeff Flake on Twitter, claiming that the Arizona Republican won’t vote for it either. The GOP can afford to lose only two votes – a third Republican “no” would sink the bill.
Around the same time Conway denounced Moore’s opponent in the campaign, Democrat Doug Jones, and said the White House wants Moore’s vote on Monday, one of Moore’s accusers – Leigh Corfman, who told The Washington Post that Moore pursued a sexual relationship with her when she was 14 years old – appeared on NBC’s “Today.”
She described two encounters with Moore, who took her to his home.
“I wouldn’t exactly call it a date. It was a meet. At 14, I was not dating. At 14, I was not able to make those kind of choices,” she said.
On a second “meet,” Corfman said, Moore “laid out some blankets on the floor of his living room and proceeded to seduce” her, touching her inappropriately and eventually trying to get her to touch him.
Moore has denied the allegations.
For Republicans, Moore’s refusal to drop out of the race since the allegations surfaced has led to talk of ejecting him from the Senate if he’s elected in deep-red Alabama.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has led a chorus of Republican lawmakers who have called on Moore to withdraw from the race.
McConnell’s camp looked for ways to avoid the special election that pits Moore head-to-head against Jones – including write-in campaigns by interim Sen. Luther Strange, whom Moore bested in the primary, or Attorney General Jeff Sessions and urging Gov. Kay Ivey to move the election date.
But Republicans in Alabama moved late last week to shut down those avenues for a Republican candidate other than Moore. Ivey said Friday that the December 12 election date won’t budge and that she’ll support Moore because he is a Republican.
“I believe in the Republican Party and what we stand for, and most important, we need to have a Republican in the United States Senate to vote on things like Supreme Court justices, other appointments the Senate has to confirm and make major decisions,” Ivey said. “And so that’s what I plan to do, is vote for the Republican nominee, Roy Moore.”
The Alabama Republican Party issued a statement standing by Moore and refusing to strip him of the party’s nomination.
The local support comes even as Alabama’s three biggest newspapers – The Birmingham News, Mobile Press-Register and The Huntsville Times, all owned by the Alabama Media Group – stripped an editorial across their front pages Sunday headlined: “Stand for Decency, Reject Roy Moore.”
“It looks pretty bleak,” said one national GOP aide who asked for anonymity to frankly discuss the race. “Unless, by divine intervention, Roy Moore wakes up and decides he shouldn’t do this, this is what we’re going to be stuck with.”