WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican leaders in Washington are coming to grips with the possibility — perhaps even probability — that Alabama's Roy Moore will win his special election next Tuesday and join them in the capital.
FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, file photo, former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a rally, in Fairhope, Ala. In the face of sexual misconduct allegations, Moore's U.S. Senate campaign has been punctuated by tense moments and long stretches without public appearances. Moore faces Democrat Doug Jones for Alabama's U.S. Senate seat in the Dec. 12 election. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
Looking past allegations of sexual misconduct with Alabama teenagers, President Donald Trump formally endorsed Moore, and the Republican National Committee quickly followed suit late Monday, announcing it was returning at least some of the support it had pulled last month.
"I think he's going to do very well. We don't want to have a liberal Democrat in Alabama, believe me," Trump said Tuesday during a lunch with Republican senators. "We want strong borders, we want stopping crime, we want to have the things that we represent and we certainly don't want to have a liberal Democrat that's controlled by Nancy Pelosi and controlled by Chuck Schumer, we don't want to have that for Alabama."
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, who once called on Moore to get out of the race, changed his rhetoric over the weekend to say that it was Alabama voters who should decide.
The changed tone — and Trump's decision to do away with any facade of distancing himself from the race — make it clear they are increasingly confident in Moore's chances of victory despite the continued unease of some other Republicans.
The special election is next Tuesday for the seat once held by Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. attorney general. Although the polls have showed a narrowing contest with Democrat Doug Jones, Alabama is a strongly Republican state and Democrats generally have little chance there.
A Moore victory would set up a potential clash with fellow Republicans in Congress, some of whom have resoundingly called on him to quit the race. While some have softened their rhetoric recently, others have said they still will try to expel him if he is elected.
An RNC official confirmed late Monday that the committee would once again be supporting Moore after severing its fundraising ties to his campaign last month, though it was not immediately clear what that support would entail. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm the reversal, which was first reported by Breitbart News.
Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon, Breitbart's executive chairman, is scheduled to attend a rally with Moore Tuesday evening.
Buoyed by the taste of his own success in Congress as the Republican tax bill inches closer to passage, Trump telephoned Moore on Monday to offer encouragement as well as support and also argued in a pair of tweets that Moore's vote was badly needed to push the president's policies forward.
Weeks ago, when accusations of sexual misconduct with teenagers first surfaced, Trump's spokesman had said the president believed Moore would "do the right thing and step aside" if the allegations were true.
Top Republicans had vowed to expel him from the Senate if he wins. Publicly and privately, GOP leaders described the allegations against Moore as credible and insisted there were no circumstances under which he should serve in the Senate.
Moore's campaign was wounded by accusations this fall of sexual misconduct, decades ago, made by women who were then teenagers. One of the women alleges he initiated sexual contact when she was 14.
Moore has denied the allegations, saying "I do not know any of these women. I did not date any of these women I did not engage in any sexual misconduct with anyone."
Trump, who has repeatedly noted Moore's denials, took a more political stance on Monday.
"Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama," Trump tweeted. "We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more."
In that same vein, longtime Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said Trump's endorsement didn't surprise him. He said of the president, "I think he's interested, a lot of us are, in the numbers, being a Republican."
And Sen. Orrin Hatch, who traveled with Trump on Monday to Hatch's home state of Utah, said he realistically didn't have any choice. Hatch said, of Moore, "That's the only Republican you can possibly get down there at this time."
Trump first appeared to back Moore after his first choice, Sen. Luther Strange, lost the GOP primary for the seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But the president went silent after The Washington Post reported on the allegations of sexual misconduct with two teens, ages 14 and 16, and efforts to date several others while Moore was a local prosecutor in his 30s.
By late last month, however, with pressure mounting from Bannon and other corners of his base, Trump was making clear that he preferred Moore, raising doubts about the candidate's accusers and criticizing Democrat Jones as the "liberal puppet" of Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.
Jones sidestepped questions about Trump's endorsement while suggesting the support of national Republicans like McConnell could do more harm than good in Alabama.
"Our campaign is going straight to the people of the Alabama because that's who my voters are. It's not the president, it's not Mitch McConnell," Jones told reporters outside a steel mill in suburban Birmingham. "Obviously Mitch McConnell has very little credibility in this state anyway, so I'm not worried about him at all."
Expelling a senator is no easy task. The Senate Ethics Committee would have to investigate, and a recommendation of expulsion could take years.
Peoples reported from Birmingham, Alabama. Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Nancy Benac contributed to this report.
AP FACT CHECK: Moore's flip on whether he knows accusers
By KIM CHANDLER , Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore has given contradictory accounts about knowing women who say Moore pursued them romantically when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.
Moore's Senate campaign has been roiled by accusations that he sexually assaulted a 14 and a 16 year old when he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s and dated, or tried to date, several other women between the ages of 16 and 18. Moore has denied the assault and misconduct allegations, but made conflicting statements about dating teens as a man in his 30s.
WHAT MOORE INITIALLY SAID:
In a Nov. 10 radio interview with Sean Hannity, Moore said he remembered two of the women, Debbie Wesson Gibson and Gloria Deason, who were 17 and 18 at the time. He said he remembered both of them but didn't remember dating them. Asked by Hannity if he generally dated teenagers as a man in his 30s, Moore replied. "Not generally, no. If I did, you know, I'm not going to dispute anything, but I don't remember anything like that." Asked if he remembered having a girlfriend in her late teens while he was in his 30s, Moore replied, "I don't remember that, and I don't remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother."
WHAT MOORE SAID LAST WEEK:
Moore said twice last week in campaign stops that he did not "know any of these women." He did not list their names but at one stop said their faces were appearing on his opponent's advertisements. Democrat Doug Jones has run advertisements with the photos of all of the women who have accused Moore.
"These allegations are completely false. They're malicious. Specially, I do not know any of these women, nor have I ever engaged in sexual misconduct with anyone," Moore said in a campaign stop in Henagar, Alabama.
At a campaign stop in Theodore, Moore said, "Let me state once again: I do not know any of these women, did not date any of these women and have not engaged in any sexual misconduct with anyone."
WHAT HIS ACCUSERS SAID:
The Washington Post , which reported the initial allegations against Moore, said Gibson has a card she said Moore signed congratulating her on graduating high school. Gibson said she dated Moore when she was 17 and that he asked her out after speaking to her high school civics class. Gibson showed a handwritten notation in a memory book about their first date in 1981 before she graduated high school. She wrote they went to Catfish Cabin and that it was "great," underlined twice.
"He called me a liar," Gibson, who had campaigned for Moore during one of his early runs for local judge, told the newspaper. "Roy Moore made an egregious mistake to attack that one thing — my integrity."
Paula Corbia, an attorney representing Deason, who said Moore dated her when she was 18, told the newspaper that Deason has vivid memories of dating Moore, down to restaurants they went to and a dress she wore.
Moore has consistently denied an accusation by Leigh Corfman, who said Moore touched her sexually when she was 14.
Corfman in a letter provided to The Associated Press and al.com, responded to Moore's denials and wrote that Moore should "stop calling me a liar and attacking my character."
"I am telling the truth, and you should have the decency to admit it and apologize," Corfman wrote.
WHAT HIS CAMPAIGN SAID:
A campaign spokeswoman said Monday that when Moore said "any" he only meant the women who had accused him of sexual assault.
"Roy Moore already said he knew Debbie Wesson and her family but did not recall any formal dates. Furthermore, when he stated that he did not know any of the women, he was referring to those who accused him of sexual assault," Moore spokeswoman Hannah Ford said.
Moore had previously issued an open letter to Hannity saying he never dated "underage" women. The letter did not define underage. A campaign spokeswoman declined to clarify, saying the judge's words spoke for themselves.
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