Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

McConnell Is Said to Mull Replacing Moore, Who Says #DitchMitch

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discussed the idea of having Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed to his old Senate seat if Alabama GOP candidate Roy Moore wins election but then is expelled by his colleagues, according to a person familiar with the exchange.

McConnell of Kentucky raised the idea in a call on the GOP tax bill with Vice President Mike Pence on Monday, the person said, adding that Pence didn’t advocate for or against the idea. The person said McConnell also floated the idea of Sessions running as a write-in candidate for the seat.

Five women have said Moore pursued them romantically when they were teenagers and he was a county prosecutor. One woman said Moore initiated sexual contact with her when she was 14 and another accused Moore of sexually assaulting her in his car when she was 16.

McConnell didn’t comment on the possible scenarios for replacing Moore while speaking with reporters Tuesday. He said he spoke with President Donald Trump on the matter Friday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Saturday and Pence on Monday.

The majority leader reiterated that Moore is “obviously not fit” to hold office and that he’s discussing “all the options” with the White House for keeping Moore out of the Senate while maintaining the seat for Republicans.

The election is “up to the people of Alabama to make this decision,” McConnell said while adding, “From a Republican point of view, we would hope to save the seat and that might require a write-in, and all of those things are under discussion.”

Moore’s Response

Moore is fighting any attempt to prevent him from taking the Senate seat, specifically targeting McConnell. “The good people of Alabama, not the Washington elite who wallow in the swamp, will decide this election! #DitchMitch,” he wrote on Twitter.

It’s too late to remove Moore’s name from the ballot under Alabama law. If Moore wins, senators could vote to expel him, which under the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate. Then the governor of Alabama could appoint a temporary replacement, such as Sessions or current Alabama Senator Luther Strange, who lost in a primary to Moore.

A person close to Sessions said Monday that he has told people at home in Alabama that he’s not interested in returning to his old Senate seat. Sessions said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday that he has “no reason to doubt” Moore’s accusers.

Strange told reporters Monday night that he sees a write-in candidacy as doubtful, although he didn’t entirely rule it out.

“Let the facts unfold,” he said. “I think right now a write-in candidacy is highly unlikely.”

Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, head of the Senate Republicans’ campaign committee, issued a scathing statement Monday that said if Moore refuses to withdraw from the race and wins, he should be expelled.

Trump will discuss with aides how the White House and Republicans should deal with their embattled Senate candidate, an administration official said Tuesday. Trump is currently on a flight back from a 12-day trip to Asia and has said he will comment further on the allegations against Moore after he returns to the U.S.

The White House issued a statement on Friday saying that Trump believes Moore should step aside “if these allegations are true.”

‘Toss Up’

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report on Tuesday moved its rating of the Dec. 12 election between Moore and Democratic candidate Doug Jones to “toss up.”

Beverly Young Nelson’s detailed at a news conference in New York City on Monday of a sexual assault by Moore when she was 16 unleashed a new wave of condemnation of Moore, who responded with defiance.

"I can tell you without hesitation this is absolutely false,” Moore said of the latest allegations at an event in Gallant, Alabama, that was broadcast by television station WBRC. “This is a political maneuver, and it has nothing to do with reality, it’s all about politics.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin joined the chorus of those urging Moore to leave the race, telling reporters Tuesday, "Number one, these allegations are credible. Number two, if he cares about the values and people he claims to care about, then he should step aside.”

Other Republicans have lined up against Moore in Congress. Senator Todd Young of Indiana called the accusations against Moore “far more persuasive than the denials.” Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina said that “with five women now coming forward, Moore should do the right thing and withdraw from the race.”

Four Republican senators have withdrawn earlier endorsements of Moore -- John Cornyn of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Steve Daines of Montana and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Ted Cruz of Texas, who also endorsed Moore, conditionally backed away. Moore, he said should drop out “if these allegations are true,” or come forward “with strong, persuasive rebuttals demonstrating they are untrue.”

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