As Republican leaders come to grips with the possibility that Roy Moore will win an Alabama senate seat next Tuesday despite repeated allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against teenagers, Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. John Barrasso says its now up to the voters to decide.
Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Enzi stands by his earlier statement that Moore should drop out.
Last month, Barrasso and Enzi both said that Moore should drop out of the race following a series of sexual misconduct allegations by women who said that Moore had dated or sexually assaulted them when they were teenagers and he was a 30-something district attorney. Moore has denied the allegations.
“These are disturbing and credible accusations,” Barrasso said. “I believe Judge Moore should step aside immediately. If he doesn’t, it’s ultimately up to the people of Alabama to decide who they want to represent them in the U.S. Senate.”
That position was the consensus among most top Republicans following the allegations against Moore. But 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. As the fourth-ranking Senate Republican, Barrasso is a close ally of McConnell’s, and on Tuesday, spokeswoman Laura Mengelkamp declined to say whether Barrasso still believed Moore should drop out.
“Senator Barrasso stated earlier that he would rather Judge Moore step aside so that another Republican could run and win,” Mengelkamp said in an email. “That didn’t happen. Voters in Alabama will vote to decide.”
On Monday, President Donald Trump formally endorsed Moore, and the Republican National Committee quickly followed suit, announcing it was returning at least some of the support it had pulled last month. Trump has also been accused of sexual assault by several women, but has denied the allegations.
In contrast, Enzi is standing by his initial comments, which said the allegations against Moore were “serious and disturbing” and called on the candidate to leave the race.
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“Senator Enzi stands by his statement,” spokesman Max D’Onofrio said in an email Tuesday.
Barrasso, who is running for reelection next year, has been attacked by some Trump supporters for being too close to establishment Republicans and not supportive enough of the president’s agenda. While Barrasso’s stance on Moore aligns him with McConnell, it also moves him toward Trump’s position and that of Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon, a strong Moore backer who is said to be recruiting candidates to challenge Barrasso in the GOP primary.
McConnell appeared to hedge once again on Tuesday afternoon, saying that there had been “no change of heart” on Moore and that he would immediately initiate an ethics investigation if Moore is elected.
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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.
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.
Two women have accused Moore of sexually assaulting or molesting them decades ago, when they were 14 and 16 and he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s. At least five other women have said he pursued romantic relationships with them around the same time, when they were 16 to 18.
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, but the candidate 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.”
After the first allegations emerged, Moore said that he did know some of the women accusing him of sexual misconduct and referred to them as “good girls” but said he did not recall dating any of them.
Jones, the Democrat, sidestepped questions about Trump’s endorsement while suggesting the support of national Republicans like McConnell could do more harm than good in Alabama. A former federal prosecutor, Jones told supporters Tuesday that he had done his part to ensure that “men who hurt little girls should go to jail and not the United States Senate.”
Barrasso did not respond to a question asking whether he would rather serve in the Senate with Jones or Moore.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.