President Donald Trump may have offered his full-throated endorsement of Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore on Monday morning, but that didn’t make Republican senators more willing to speak in support of the alleged sexual predator.
They just weren’t quite as eager to speak against Trump either.
“I’m not going to make judgments on what the president does,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told Independent Journal Review. “That’s up to him.”
While Senate Republicans have been clear in their calls for Moore to drop out of the race — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a press conference he believed Moore’s accusers were telling the truth, and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has expressed support for the idea of expelling him from the Senate, if elected — they were altogether timid when it came to Trump’s endorsement.
“I think the president, like a lot of us, we don’t want to lose that seat,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters.
There are 52 Republicans in the Senate, and GOP leaders can only lose two of those votes to still pass agenda items through reconciliation with 50 Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote.
Losing the special Senate election in Alabama would make the margin for disagreement in the Republican conference even tighter. Most Republicans on Capitol Hill have withdrawn their support for Moore, but a slim Senate majority is hanging over almost every senator’s mind, particularly McConnell’s.
On Sunday, the majority leader backed off from early denouncements of Moore to say the people of Alabama would decide.
That was a popular line Monday.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) expressed that sentiment, while simultaneously pushing back on the notion that Republicans might be prioritizing legislative wins over condemning credibly accused sexual abusers.
“I don’t agree on that at all,” he told IJR. “There have been a lot of people making extremely clear statements, including me, about how you handle those issues, and I think we’ll continue to do that.”
But Lankford and his GOP colleagues weren’t keen on making clear statements about Trump’s backing of Moore on Monday.
When asked about Trump’s comments, Lankford said he didn’t have a statement “one way or the other on that.”
“Sorry,” he said.
Sen. John Barrasso’s answer was that “the president speaks for himself.”
Asked if he thought Trump’s support for Moore reflected well on the Republican party, Barrasso, a member of Senate GOP leadership, ducked the question and said he had already made his statements on the issue.
“I really don’t have any more for you,” the Wyoming Republican responded.
Moore is accused by at least eight women of sexual misconduct, including molesting a 14-year-old girl, assaulting a 16-year-old girl, groping another woman after he was married and pursuing other sexual relationships with teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
The New Yorker reported he was even banned from a mall in Gadsden, Alabama, because of his alleged predatory behavior around teenage girls at the time. Moore has denied the allegations, but he didn’t dispute he dated teenagers when he was in his 30s.
Most congressional Republicans and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have cut ties with Moore, but that didn’t stop Trump from explicitly endorsing the candidate in a tweet Monday morning.
“Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama. We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more. No to Jones, a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!” the tweet read.
The race in Alabama has tightened, according to a CBS poll Sunday, with Moore up 49 points to Democratic candidate Doug Jones’s 43 points.
Following Trump’s tweet, some Republicans signaled softened stances against Moore. Breitbart reported Monday night the Republican National Committee, which previously pulled its support for the candidate, will once again offer financial support for the campaign.
The GOP is divided on how to handle the toxic situation. In a conversation with IJR, a senior Senate GOP aide expressed frustrations GOP lawmakers refused to admit on the record. “The president had an opportunity weeks ago to step in and demand something better in Alabama and to say that at this particular moment in history, we can say no to child molesters.”
“Is one more hardly reliable Republican vote worth losing what’s left of the soul of our party?” the aide asked.
Outspoken Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is the only elected Republican who has backed Moore’s Democratic challenger, telling reporters weeks ago he would “run” to the polls to support Jones over Moore.
On Monday night, Flake argued supporting Moore would become a stain on the Republican Party.
“I’m not a fan,” Flake told reporters. “I think it’s going to be difficult enough for Republicans without us being the party of Roy Moore.”
Still, Trump will hold a rally just outside Alabama in neighboring Pensacola, Florida, on Friday — just four days before the election.
In the meantime, Senate Republicans are trying their best not to get involved.
“I’ve got enough trouble paddling my own canoe,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told IJR. “I’m not going to tell the president how to do his job.”