The mounting accusations of multiple women against Judge Roy Moore might not stop him from winning a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama next month. This concerns a number of Senate Republicans, who are wrestling with what can be done to stop him from taking office — even if he wins.
It’s too late to get his name removed from the ballot, and even if it weren’t, Moore easily won the primary against Trump-backed incumbent Luther Strange, and he did so fairly. Now, he faces Democrat Doug Jones, who appears to be gaining on him in recent polls. The options for addressing Moore are few, and there are no good ones.
Here are some of the ideas being floated as the Dec. 12 election day grows closer:
Run someone as a write-in candidate
This doesn’t preclude Republicans from further action, should it fail. Promoting a new write-in candidate is the only way for them to oppose Moore or to fill a vacancy on the ticket if Moore steps aside (which seems unlikely). Moore’s name will remain on the ballot in any case, so even if the GOP succeeds in convincing him to end his bid or persuades someone to run as a write-in, Alabamans will still have the ability to vote for Moore, whether he’s in the race or not.
The senior senator from Alabama, Richard Shelby, says he’s writing in a candidate, but he won’t say who. Mounting a write-in candidacy with less than a month until Election Day is a long-shot proposition, and there’s a shortage of candidates with the popularity and name recognition to take on the challenge.
What about Jeff Sessions?
Don’t bet on it. Yes, he’s popular and well thought-of in Alabama. But as it happens, he has a job already — the one he left the Senate to take — and however uncomfortable or unpleasant it can be to field questions about the president’s attacks on his efficacy or endure long hearings in which lawmakers accuse him of lying or fault his memory, it’s still a safe bet that Sessions views his worst day as attorney general as better than his best day as senator. He has loved the job of chief law enforcer since day one, and he’s made it clear he’ll hold onto it for as long as he’s able.
The New York Times reported that there was an idea afoot for Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to block Moore if he wins, and then immediately appoint Sessions to what had been his seat when it becomes vacant again. But again, it’s not a job Sessions wants. And there’s no legal provision for the governor to block the will of the voters just because she doesn’t approve of the outcome of the election, as Ivey has said herself.
Okay, so what if Moore wins?
If Moore goes on to win (he can’t win if he withdraws, though he can still receive votes – the votes won’t be certified, in that case), the Senate will seat him, unless it can be proven that he’s not qualified for the seat. Scandal doesn’t affect a senator-elect’s qualifications, according to legal experts, though.
Then what? Expulsion?
Yes, there’s some talk about that. At least two GOP senators have explicitly called for expelling Moore if he wins. It’s not a quick process.
Expelling him would start with the Senate Ethics Committee, which would consider his conduct and issue a recommendation before a vote could be held on the floor. Moore would likely counter that the committee doesn’t have jurisdiction over conduct that happened prior to his tenure in the Senate.
However, there’s no existing precedent in modern times, so this would be something to watch closely. If the committee recommends expulsion, then it would have to go to the Senate floor for a vote, and 67 senators would have to vote for that. So that’s 19 Republicans, if you assume all 48 Democrats would take that vote.
When was the last time the Senate expelled a member?
Glad you asked: 1862.
Fifteen senators have been expelled from the Senate, and fourteen of them were tossed out over a two-year period for supporting the Confederacy. The expulsion of one senator, William Sebastian, was reversed posthumously (Sebastian didn’t support secession, but Arkansas, the state he represented, did. When the Union took Arkansas, he pledged allegiance to the government).
The only other senator to be expelled was one of the founding fathers, William Blount. Some reckless land speculation led him to attempt to incite the Cherokee and Creek Indians into helping the British seize parts of Spanish-controlled Florida and Louisiana, in a bid to raise the prices of western lands. The Senate in 1797 voted to expel him for treason.
The last senator who even teetered on the verge of expulsion was Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., in 1995. The Senate Ethics Committee recommended expulsion for abuse of his power as a senator “by repeatedly committing sexual misconduct” and “by engaging in a deliberate…plan to enhance his personal financial position” by seeking favors “from persons who had a particular interest in legislation or issues” that he could influence, as well as for seeking “to obstruct and impede the committee’s inquiries by withholding, altering, and destroying relevant evidence.”
Rather than waiting to see how the vote would come out, Packwood resigned the next day.
So, to reiterate, there is no good scenario for the party at this point. Every option that’s been floated or reported publicly has been considered behind closed doors, and the prevailing wisdom is that if there were one idea that gave the GOP a realistic chance to rid itself of Moore without damaging the party, it would be in motion now.
None of those options are in motion at this point, and there’s no indication among Republicans CBS News has spoken with that any of them are ready to go. President Trump has yet to weigh in publicly on the matter, aside from a White House statement from his press secretary that Moore will do the “right thing” and step aside, if the allegations are true. What Mr. Trump says next could determine what the GOP does next.
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