WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans are increasingly lining up behind the women accusing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) of sexual misconduct, saying he shouldn’t be able to serve given the disturbing allegations against him.
“The women who have come forward are entirely credible,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared Tuesday. “He’s obviously not fit to be in the United States Senate.”
But ask those Republicans if they believe the women who accused President Donald Trump of sexual assault, and the conversation is over.
“Look, we’re talking about the situation in Alabama,” McConnell told HuffPost, when asked about Trump’s accusers. “I’d be happy to address that if there are any further questions.”
Moore’s scandal has put his party in an incredibly uncomfortable predicament: the more Republicans say the allegations by five women against Moore are proof that he doesn’t belong in the Senate, the more hypocritical they look for ignoring the 16 women who have accused Trump of sexual assault and helping him become president.
The White House position on the president’s accusers is that they are all liars. Trump denied all of the allegations again last month, calling them “fake news” and “made-up stuff.”
So why do Republicans believe Moore’s accusers but not Trump’s? HuffPost spent Tuesday asking GOP senators why the situations are different. Few could offer a convincing argument, instead opting to shrug their shoulders, pivot or abruptly walk away.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) said Moore should “step aside” because the women accusing him of misconduct “appear to have the preponderance of the evidence.”
Asked if he believes Trump’s accusers, Roberts replied, “I don’t know them.” He started to leave but turned back and said, referring to Moore’s accusers, “I don’t know the others, either.”
Perhaps realizing his answers made no sense, Roberts turned back again and said with a smile, “Or [Bill] Clinton.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said Moore’s accusers “certainly seem credible.” He had a harder time responding to the allegations against Trump.
“You’re obviously asking what everybody’s asking. You know, what about all these other folks,” said Cassidy, before taking a lengthy pause. “You know, I don’t know. Without going into [Bill] Clinton, or Trump, or anyone else, I’ll just stay with where I am with Roy Moore.”
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) argued that the “sheer volume and the level of detail that’s been provided” by Moore’s accusers “draws enough conclusion” for him to say the Alabama Republican ought to withdraw from the race. As for whether Trump’s accusers should be believed, Burr said he was “only addressing Roy Moore.”
It’s no secret that Republicans don’t want Moore in their ranks, and it’s not just because of the latest allegations against him. He thinks homosexuality should be illegal and compared it to bestiality. He fueled conspiracies about former President Barack Obama being born in Kenya. As chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore was expelled from office ― twice ― for defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality and for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments statue from the courthouse.
Perhaps most unnerving to Republicans, though, is that Moore has Steve Bannon’s support. Bannon, a former top aide to Trump and executive chairman of the conservative website Breitbart, is on a mission to dismantle the political establishment in Washington and sees Moore’s candidacy as a way to do it. He’s vowed to use his website’s platform to try to unseat Republican incumbents in 2018 and wants McConnell out as majority leader.
That’s arguably the biggest factor in Republicans siding with Moore’s accusers. GOP leaders are so desperate to keep Moore out, they’re exploring the idea of a last-minute write-in campaign for another Republican candidate, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who previously held the seat. Moore’s name, however, will still appear on the ballot as required by Alabama law ― prompting some Republicans to call for a vote to expel him if he wins the Dec. 12 special election.
“We’ve looked at all the options,” McConnell said Tuesday.
For now, Republicans insist that Moore’s accusers are enough proof that he doesn’t belong in the Senate ― even if they can’t explain why they don’t see Trump’s accusers as just as credible.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said he believes the women accusing Moore of sexual misconduct but threw his hands in the air when asked about Trump’s accusers.
“I don’t think in this particular case that there was a lot of disagreement among those individuals, so ...” he said, trailing off.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), one of four senators who endorsed Moore’s campaign, walked away without saying anything when asked if Trump’s accusers deserve the same benefit of the doubt as the women who accused Moore of sexual assault.
“I’m working on taxes right now and concentrating on that and heading to a meeting where I have to speak and that’s what I’m concentrating on,” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) told HuffPost, walking quickly down a Senate hallway.
Asked if he has any thoughts at all on the Moore scandal, he replied, “My thoughts are on taxes. If you want to talk about taxes.”
“OK. Do you want to tax Roy Moore?” asked HuffPost.
Enzi said nothing and walked away.