The only group of people with the power to force nominee Roy Moore from the Alabama Senate race is heading into a crucial meeting Wednesday afternoon with no guidance from President Trump on what to do.
The Alabama Republican Party steering committee, the only organization that could revoke Moore’s endorsement and disqualify any votes for him, meets at 4 p.m. Alabama time, 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
The meeting is the first time its 21 members will discuss whether to disqualify Moore as a candidate and possibly back a write-in campaign, publicly stand by him, or — the most likely option — do nothing and hope the problem goes away on its own.
While many members had hoped for an indication from the president on whether they should force Moore out, Trump didn’t address the issue in his first media appearance on U.S. soil since four women came forward to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers last Thursday — including one who said they had a sexual encounter when she was just 14 years old. A fifth woman has since come forward to say that Moore violently tried to force a relationship.
The president took no questions from reporters at the White House as he gave an extended statement on his recently completed Asia trip.
If Trump had decided to follow Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and many other Republicans to call on Moore to drop out or lose the party’s support, the members of the committee who want Moore gone would have had much more political cover to push for his removal. Now, there may not be the energy to cut Moore loose.
“I’m not sure people have the courage to throw Moore off,” one senior Alabama Republican who has talked to multiple committee members told TPM Wednesday afternoon. “If they don’t do anything my assumption is they won’t meet again.”
The meeting comes as the pressure mounts from all corners of the national party for Moore to quit the race – something he’s defiantly refused to do.
On Tuesday night, Fox News host Sean Hannity gave Moore a 24-hour ultimatum to give “a satisfactory explanation for your inconsistencies” or drop out of the race — a major reversal after defending him on-air for days after the accusations dropped. That comes after both the Republican National Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled their support.
But in Alabama, most in the GOP establishment seem very wary of pulling Moore’s support and enraging his supporters.
“I’d be real surprised if the president comes out one way or the other. He loves Alabama, Alabama loves him. Roy Moore won the election fair and square,” Perry Hooper, Trump’s Alabama campaign chairman, told TPM shortly before Trump spoke. “I think they keep everything as is, and if that’s the case that means they’re supporting the nominee. They don’t have to have any statement, they can just say he’s the nominee, period.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), who told TPM Tuesday that he wanted the state party to yank its endorsement of Moore, said Wednesday that he’d “vote Republican — but I’ll probably write in a good candidate,” and wouldn’t vote for Moore.
But he was skeptical how much impact President Trump’s comments might have.
“He’d have to consider would it make any difference this late? Because if he weighed in, could we get another candidate? The problem is, could you substitute anybody, see?” he said.
Ahead of the meeting, Moore allies in the state sought to put added pressure on the state party to come out in favor of Moore, with two local organizations issuing statements of support for their candidate. Both local organizations, the Shelby County Republicans and the Fifth District Republicans, are run by people close to Moore’s two most vocal backers on the state steering committee.
Moore remains stubbornly defiant, attacking McConnell, the media and his female accusers.
The Republicans and Democrats who did everything they could to stop Donald Trump and elect Hillary Clinton are the very same people who are now trying to take us down with lies and smears. #ALSEN
— Judge Roy Moore (@MooreSenate) November 15, 2017
And to add extra pressure to the state GOP, Moore’s campaign announced that it’ll be holding a press conference with Moore’s attorney in front of the Alabama Republican Party headquarters, where the meeting will take place, at the same time the meeting begins.
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