Senate Republicans Don’t Break With Tradition on Roy Moore

Embrace of candidate raises questions on how far GOP will go to back their own

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore faces questions from reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore faces questions from reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 2, 2017 at 5:00am

Roy Moore has called homosexuality illegal, said Muslims should not be able to serve in Congress and was removed from the state Supreme Court twice — once for defying a federal court order and the second time for violating judicial ethics. But Senate Republicans welcomed him into their weekly caucus lunch Tuesday, a sign that they are ready to coalesce around the GOP candidate in the Alabama Senate race.

It is nothing new for GOP lawmakers to back the Republican candidate in any race, whether that be local, state or national, regardless of the individual running.

But the polarizing comments of the former chief justice of the Alabama high court, as well as his two removals for judicial misconduct, have again raised questions over how far members should go in adhering to that tradition, particularly as former White House adviser Steve Bannon puts his political weight behind more anti-establishment candidates.

Democrats say the Republicans’ support of Moore signals a damaging turn for the GOP and one that could have drastic consequences down the line.

Republicans counter that their endorsements do not extend to every comment Moore has ever made — including his calls for the ouster of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — and many were quick to denounce his past remarks about homosexuality and Islam.

Sticking together

Instead, GOP lawmakers say their support stems from his backing of traditional Republican policy ideals and what they say is his reverence for the political process. (After he was removed from the Alabama Supreme Court a second time and the court upheld that removal this year, Moore refused to accept the results, and maintained he was still chief justice.)

“We don’t have to agree with everything they say. As a matter of fact, I don’t agree with some of the things he’s said. But he’s the nominee and I’d rather have him over the Democrat,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said.

“I respect the verdict of the voters. I may not agree with many of the things that he said, but the people of Alabama have made their choice,” Sen. John McCain of Arizona said.

In addition to Tuesday’s policy lunch, Moore also dined with Republican senators in the Capitol on Wednesday. Several lawmakers said they did not speak to him one-on-one, and others avoided directly addressing whether they backed him as a candidate.

“The support or otherwise of Judge Roy Moore, I’m not going to comment on right here. But he did survive his primary,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said, before shrugging her arms, sighing and entering an elevator.

Democrats say Moore’s attendance sets a dangerous precedent for future GOP candidates.

“This is unfortunate evidence that the Republican caucus has been hijacked by some of the most extreme elements in America. It’s a signal that, no matter what you say and do, the Republican caucus will embrace you,” said Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

But for many Republicans, the fact that Moore is not a Democrat appears to be enough for them to gloss over his past comments, and hope he wins on Dec. 12 in his campaign against Democrat Doug Jones.

“Every Republican senator here is going to back every Republican candidate. It’s just the way it happens,” Idaho Sen. Jim Risch said. “A number of other people have had issue with other Republicans, including the leader.”

“It sends a message that we want to see more Republicans elected to the United States Senate because the policy ideas of the Democrats are harmful,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said of Moore’s attendance at the lunch.

When asked whether that holds true regardless of a candidate’s past comments, Cruz did not respond.

More rhetoric?

For many, Moore’s nomination has just been an extension of President Donald Trump’s rise to power, which was filled with controversial statements — both past and present — including the infamous audio recording in which Trump was caught bragging about groping women. 

Moore’s comments on homosexuality and Muslims are from several years ago, and he said Tuesday that he no longer believes in a religious test to serve in public office.

But while he stuck largely to script the last two days when speaking to reporters, the former judge is still making news with incendiary rhetoric. In a statement Monday night, he called for the impeachment of the judge who intervened to stop Trump’s proposed ban on transgender individuals serving in the military.

“Unless we return to faithful obedience to the Constitution and the separation of powers set out therein, our form of government and our liberties will be in dire jeopardy. Congress should not turn a deaf ear to this flagrant usurpation of executive authority,” he said.

Moore’s suspension from the bench last year stemmed from his ordering state officials not to issue same-sex licenses, defying a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriage is legal. 

Many Senate Republicans say the use of such rhetoric is only temporary.

“Elections are elections and then you have to govern. People usually get pretty pragmatic after the elections are over,” Risch said. “Everybody that runs in their won states have to make up their own mind what issues they want to pursue with the voters. What happens there, happens there. What happens here, happens here.”