WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are confronted with a limited, unappealing set of options in responding to Alabama GOP candidate Roy Moore, who is caught up in allegations of sexual misconduct decades ago with minors. The election is already underway, with absentee ballots being mailed in with Moore’s name on them. If he were to win, there’s no precedent in the Senate for refusing to seat him. Here are the few options available:
One option under consideration would be for Republicans in Alabama to abandon Moore in the Dec. 12 contest and rally around a write-in candidate, perhaps Sen. Luther Strange, who lost to Moore in the primary in September, or even Jeff Sessions, the U.S. attorney general. Sessions, who held the seat until his confirmation earlier this year, is still popular in Alabama. Still, such a candidacy would be an uphill slog, particularly if Moore remains defiant and pulls a sizable vote from his impassioned base of evangelical supporters.
With Moore on the ballot, he could siphon votes away from any write-in Republican, potentially swinging the race to Democrat Doug Jones. A Jones victory would narrow the margin of control in the GOP-controlled Senate to 51-49. That’s an outcome Republicans are anxious to avoid.
Sen. Cory Gardner, chairman of the Senate GOP’s campaign committee, said Monday that if Moore were to win the election, the Senate might move to expel him, a dramatic step that hasn’t been taken since the Civil War. In that case, GOP Gov. Kay Ivey would appoint another interim senator.
The U.S. Constitution says both the House and Senate have the power to “punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.” The Senate has expelled 15 of its members, 14 of whom were supporters of the Confederacy, and hasn’t expelled anyone since 1862. More recently, members such as Bob Packwood, the Oregon Republican who faced charges of sexual misconduct and abuse of power, have resigned rather than face expulsion.
In theory, expulsion offers a longshot path for establishment Republicans to reclaim the seat. But Moore would have to win in the first place and do so in the face of a potential write-in candidacy and opposition from state and national Republicans.