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Republican senators wrestle with their Roy Moore problem

Senate Republicans are stepping up pressure on Roy Moore to withdraw from the Alabama Senate race after new sexual misconduct allegations on Monday, but many stopped well short of pledging to expel him if he wins the special election next month.

Republican are wrestling with what to do about the conservative candidate in the wake of a bombshell report about Moore making sexual advances toward teenage girls, and a fifth woman coming forward on Monday who said he sexually assaulted her when she was 16.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) became the first Senate Republican to specifically urge the Senate to expel Moore if he refuses to step aside and wins in December.

“If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate,” Gardner said in a statement.

A few GOP senators rallied behind Gardner’s comments on Monday.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters that Moore should be kept out of the Senate “whatever it requires,” and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he would vote to expel Moore but didn’t think it would reach that level.

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) also appeared to open the door to expelling Moore, saying if he doesn’t step aside “we need to act to protect the integrity of the Senate.”

The move would be historic for a chamber that last formally expelled a member in 1862, with most past expulsions targeting members of the Confederacy, according to the Senate Historical Office.

And the move, assuming every Democrat voted to expel Moore, would require the support of at least 19 Republican senators to reach the two-thirds threshold—considerably more than were willing to publicly back the option on Monday.

More than a dozen GOP senators either stopped short or refused to comment on questions about if the Senate should expel Moore if he wins.

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, called the allegations against Moore “deeply disturbing” but signaled that questions about what happens if he wins were premature.

“I think that’s way down the road. We’ll wait and see what happens,” he told reporters when asked about Gardner’s push for an expulsion vote.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) declined to say if Moore should be expelled, adding that he “would need to listen to every bit of the evidence.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) added that questions about explosion were “hypothetical” but “it would be nice if he stepped aside.”

Moore has shown no signs of backing down despite growing pressure from national Republicans for him to withdraw from the race.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) warned that if Moore continuous to face allegations of sexual misconduct with minors it would be “devastating,” but that the Senate could legally have to seat him if he wins the Dec. 12 vote.

“If he’s elected, I think under the Supreme Court decision we would seat him and then what will happen then, none of us knows,” he said.

Shelby appeared to be referencing a 1960s case, Powell v. McCormack, in which the House refused to seat Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-N.Y.), who was facing misconduct allegations, by voting to “exclude” him.

The Supreme Court ruled that that while the Constitution gives Congress the ability to punish members for “disorderly” behavior, it couldn’t use an exclusion vote to refuse to seat a member who was legally elected.

“[Because he was] duly elected by the voters of the 18th Congressional District of New York and was not ineligible to serve under any provision of the Constitution, the House was without power to exclude him from its membership,” the Supreme Court wrote.

Multiple GOP senators, instead, reiterated that they think Moore should step down.

“It seems to me that we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. What I would like to see is for Mr. Moore to immediately step aside,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) added “I hope he steps aside. I don’t see a good outcome for Mr. Moore. …This is just a no win situation here.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) became the latest GOP senator to pull his endorsement of Moore.

“If these allegations are true, Judge Moore should drop out now,” Cruz told The Texas Tribune, adding the claims could merit “criminal prosecution.”

New allegations against Moore continued on Monday, leaving senators in the Capitol to face a mob of reporters with questions about his political fate.

During a press conference Monday with attorney Gloria Allred, Beverly Young Nelson said she was sexually assaulted by Moore when she was 16 years old.

And local residents of the county where Moore was once the assistant distract attorney told The New Yorker and AL.Com, an Alabama news source, that it was common knowledge that he would flirt with and try to date teenage girls.

Shelby, asked if he would support expelling Moore, sidestepped but noted the allegations were coming out “drip by drip, cut by cut.”

“Well we’ll see what happens in the next few days, but if you’re going to see more of this come out, more damaging stories dealing with minors, it’s devastating,” he said, asked if there was anything Republicans could do to force Moore out.

Some GOP senators sidestepped questions on Moore entirely.

“I’ve already said everything I’m going to say,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who over the weekend called on Moore to step down, told reporters on Monday. “If you would like to talk about something else, that’s fine.”

Even if Moore stepped out of race his name would still appear on the ballot. Some Republicans have floated delaying the special election or launching a write -n candidate, though it remains unclear who would have enough support to win.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters in Kentucky that Moore should step aside and that he is exploring a potential write-in campaign.

“That’s an option we’re looking at, whether or not there is someone who could mount a write-in successfully,” he said.

A spokesman for McConnell, asked if the GOP senator supported expelling Moore, declined to comment.

But a write-in candidate would likely face a Herculean task. If Moore refuses to step down there’s the threat that they could split the Republican vote, elevating Democrat Doug Jones.

Gardner noted that he hasn’t discussed a write-in challenge with Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), whom Moore defeated in the primary, or anyone else.

Shelby floated Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate to join the Trump administration, as a “strong” contender if he decided that he wanted to rejoin the chamber in his old seat.

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