Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans say that Alabama Senate GOP candidate Roy Moore is virtually certain to face a formal ethics complaint — which would lead to expulsion proceedings — should he get elected next month.
It’s an outcome that senior Republicans say privately is all but unavoidable after the embattled Senate hopeful was accused of sexual misconduct, including with a 14-year-old girl. The former Alabama Supreme Court justice is refusing to leave the race.
McConnell initially outlined his thinking at his weekly leadership meeting earlier this week: The majority leader said if Moore is elected next month, he expects a senator to file an ethics complaint against Moore, according to multiple sources. That process would eventually lead to a vote on expelling him.
One option that McConnell floated during the meeting was for a Democrat, such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), to the process by filing the complaint, according to the sources. Democrats are not entertaining that option before the Dec. 12 special election because the party’s candidate, Doug Jones, could win.
On Tuesday, McConnell didn’t mince words about what Moore would be up against if he makes to the Senate.
"If he were to be sworn in, he would immediately be in a process before the Senate Ethics Committee,” McConnell said at a Wall Street Journal event. “He would be sworn in and be asked to testify under oath and it would be a rather unusual beginning, probably an unprecedented beginning."
That he is publicly warning a potential future Republican senator of ethics proceedings illustrates the no-win situation the GOP finds itself in. But the party see no other option, except perhaps a write-in campaign by a well-known Republican in Alabama that would still risk splitting the GOP and handing the seat to Democrats.
McConnell oversaw the effort to expel former Republican Sen. Bob Packwood in the late 1990s following numerous sexual harassment allegations against the Oregon senator. McConnell recounted that experience during the leadership meeting on Monday evening, according to the sources.
The majority leader also publicly detailed his numerous conversations with the White House about the spiraling Moore scandal. Trump telephoned him from Vietnam on Friday, McConnell spoke with White House chief of staff John Kelly on Saturday and Vice President Mike Pence on Monday.
“There’s no question there’s a deep concern here,” McConnell told reporters at the Capitol Tuesday. “Roy Moore should step aside. The women who’ve come forward are entirely credible, he’s obviously not fit to be in the United States Senate and we’ve looked at all the options to try to prevent that from happening.”
McConnell stressed that “obviously this close to the election, it’s a very complicated matter and I think once the president and his team get back, we’ll have further discussions about it.”
Expelling a senator would be unprecedented in the modern-day chamber. The last time it occurred was in 1862, when three senators were expelled for supporting the Confederacy. And there is still concern that taking steps to expel a senator for actions before he was in the Senate would subvert the will of voters.
Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was the first lawmaker to raise the expulsion possibility. Gardner didn’t get the green light from McConnell before he issued his statement Monday advocating the move, according to GOP sources, though McConnell is clearly open to the idea.
Though the Senate would be constitutionally required to seat Moore if he’s elected, “continuing service is another matter,” McConnell said Tuesday.
Democrats, who are sensing significant momentum behind their nominee Doug Jones, view the political mess surrounding Moore as solely the GOP’s responsibility. They are not considering scenarios beyond the election of the former U.S. attorney in what would be a colossal upset.
Republican officials are still exploring a write-in option; the candidate would have to be someone “totally well-known and extremely popular,” McConnell said at the Wall Street Journal event. Referring to Jeff Sessions, McConnell added: “The Alabamian who would fit that standard would be the attorney general."
“I’d like to save the seat and it’s a heck of dilemma," McConnell said. "It’s a very tough situation."
Sessions has shown no public signs that he is interested in returning to the chamber, though other Senate Republicans have tossed his name as an option. Others have urged Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), the current occupant of the seat, to wage a write-in bid but he has essentially ruled it out.
“It’s really in the hands of the people of the state of Alabama and that’s where it should be,” Strange said in a brief interview Tuesday.
Other Senate Republicans stressed that no matter how it happens, the controversial justice should not be allowed to stay in their ranks.
“He should not be in the United States Senate. Period, beginning and end,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Lorraine Woellert contributed to this report.