POLITICS

Mitch McConnell Walks Back Roy Moore Criticism

"The voters of Alabama will make their choice," the Senate Republican leader says.

12/03/2017 14:38 EST

WASHINGTON ― Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has shifted his stance on Roy Moore, the Republican Senate nominee in Alabama whom McConnell previously called unfit to serve in public office.

“The people of Alabama are going to decide a week from Tuesday who they want to send to the Senate,” McConnell said Sunday in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “It’s really up to them. It’s been a pretty robust campaign with a lot of people weighing in. The president and I, of course, supported somebody different earlier in the process. But in the end, the voters of Alabama will make their choice.”

Multiple women have accused Moore of pursuing them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. One woman told The Washington Post said she was just 14 years old when he took her to his home, partially undressed her and groped her.

Last month, as additional women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore, McConnell said he believed the women and called on the former Alabama Supreme Court justice to “step aside” for a more qualified candidate. The Kentucky Republican further warned that Moore would “immediately” face an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee upon being sworn in, a process that could lead to expulsion.

Moore refused to drop out, however. Instead, he mounted an aggressive campaign against the women, whom he said were all lying under the direction of the Democratic Party and the media. His campaign aides threatened to reveal damaging information about the women in an attempt to discredit their allegations. The candidate, meanwhile, has kept a low public profile with zero campaign events on his schedule

Moore’s bid to weather the storm received a significant boost after President Donald Trump refused to echo GOP calls for him to step aside in the race. In private conversations with aides and GOP senators, Trump “doubted the stories presented by Moore’s accusers and questioned why they were emerging now,” according to Politico.

“Roy Moore denies it. That’s all I can say. He denies it. And, by the way, he totally denies it,” Trump told reporters last month when asked whether he believed Moore’s accusers.

In the latest sign of support for Moore, the White House announced that Trump will hold a campaign-style rally in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday. The city is just 25 miles from the Alabama border and shares a television market with Mobile, Alabama, ensuring that voters there will get an opportunity to see and hear the president’s remarks about the Alabama Senate race if he decides to address it.  

The president’s daughter-in-law appeared to be inviting Alabamans to the event:

Moore’s strategy to wait out the outrage over the allegations ― one that Trump similarly employed after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape was made public a month before the 2016 presidential election ― may be working.

Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee, led in several Alabama polls after the allegations against Moore first surfaced. Now, however, the momentum seems to be shifting back in Moore’s favor. According to a CBS News poll released Sunday, Moore leads Jones, 49 percent to 43 percent. In a more stunning statistic, 71 percent of Alabama Republicans surveyed by CBS said the allegations against Moore are false. (Another poll, released by The Washington Post on Saturday, however, found Jones leading by 3 percentage points.)