Senate Republican leaders were quick to distance themselves from Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) after allegations emerged that he’d sought relationships with multiple teenage women, saying if the accusations are true he must drop out of his Senate race.
“If these allegations are true, he must step aside,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement Thursday afternoon, shortly after a bombshell Washington Post report in which a number of women accused Moore of coming onto them when they were teenagers — including a 14-year-old girl who said he initiated a sexual encounter.
“If it is true, I don’t think his candidacy is sustainable, but we believe in a presumption of innocence until proven guilty and so I think it’s important for the facts to come out,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters. “It’s not just an allegation, it’s a story. There has to be something more to it so I’m interested in seeing what substantiation there is for the story.”
Those statements from Cornyn and McConnell offer Moore plenty of wiggle room, as he’s vociferously denying the allegations while calling the Washington Post liars.
“This garbage is the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation,” Moore’s campaign said in a Thursday afternoon statement.
Most other Republican senators took the same “if true” stance as McConnell as the news trickled out.
“If that’s true, then he wouldn’t belong in the Senate,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told reporters shortly after the news broke.
“If the allegations are true, yes, I think he should step aside,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) told reporters shortly after the news broke. “It’s very troubling. If the story’s true, I would hope that he would do the right thing and step aside.”
One exception: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying. He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) November 9, 2017
According to Alabama law, Moore cannot be removed from the ballot — but if the state Republican Party pulls its endorsement, votes for him won’t count and it can run a write-in candidate. There was buzz around Capitol Hill in the immediate aftermath of the explosive report that’s the path Republicans might pursue.
Moore has had a large but not insurmountable lead in most polls against Democrat Doug Jones in deep red Alabama ahead of the Dec. 12 election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat.
But Moore has so far been fiercely defiant, and doesn’t seem likely to listen to GOP leaders who’d endorsed his primary opponent and spent millions to defeat him.
His campaign has so far shown no signs of being ready to quit.
“Judge Roy Moore has endured the most outlandish attacks on any candidate in the modern political arena, but this story in today’s Washington Post alleging sexual impropriety takes the cake,” Moore’s campaign said in a statement. “National liberal organizations know their chosen candidate Doug Jones is in a death spiral, and this is their last ditch Hail Mary.”