Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore met with the Senate GOP caucus on Tuesday, putting him face to face with the Republican establishment that he has railed against for months.
Moore, a former state judge, stopped by the party’s closed-door lunch, which is also attended by Vice President Pence, as part of a whirlwind tour of Capitol Hill.
The powwow marked the biggest indicator to date of establishment Republicans moving to accept Moore ahead of a special election in December to fill the seat vacated when Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDallas Morning News: Cornyn ‘betrays’ GOP by backing Roy Moore Overnight Regulation: Trump declares opioids a public health emergency | Mark Kelly lobbied Scalise on guns | Warren rips plans to ease bank oversight | Coal industry advocate tapped for mining regulator Bipartisan groups call on DOJ to scrutinize AT&T-Time Warner merger MORE joined the Trump administration as attorney general.
Moore defeated Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeSbade: Alabama Senate race looks ‘crappy to me’ Moore signs fundraising agreement with RNC, NRSC: report Cruz throws support behind Roy Moore in Alabama Senate race MORE (R-Ala.) during a heated primary fight in September. The battle pitted former White House strategist Stephen Bannon against most GOP senators including Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP Senate hopeful rips McConnell for ‘smearing’ conservatives Overnight Finance: House adopts Senate budget, taking step to tax reform | GOP worries Trump feuds will endanger tax plan | Trump talks NAFTA withdrawal with senators | Treasury calls for looser oversight of insurers Trump’s Senate oversight holiday must end MORE (Ky.) as well as President Trump, who supported Strange.
Republicans said after the closed-door meeting Tuesday that Moore didn’t speak much during the lunch, beyond introducing himself.
“He said a few words, spoke to me. … He was very professional,” Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyInside Trump’s meeting with Senate GOP Republicans walking tightrope ahead of budget resolution vote Senate starts debate on budget, pushing forward with tax reform MORE (R-Ala.) told reporters.
Asked about his meeting with the caucus, a spokesman for the Senate GOP leader noted that “candidates traditionally attend a policy lunch after they become the nominee” but declined to describe any interactions.
A spokesman for Moore’s campaign declined to say who else Moore met with on Tuesday, except to note that he was meeting with other senators.
Despite actively opposing Moore during the GOP primary race, outside groups and Republicans are increasingly rallying around Moore ahead of the December special election.
As the Republican, Moore has long been expected to win in the deep-red state. But more recent polls have proved surprisingly close, with the RealClearPolitics polling index currently putting Moore up only 6 points over Democrat Doug Jones.
Moore’s visit to Capitol Hill wasn’t without controversy, with some of his potential colleagues unwilling to fully embrace him given his past rhetoric.
“I’ll examine his entire record before I decide. … I’ll have to see what he has to say about his positions, and examine his record,” McCain told reporters when asked if he supported Moore.
Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP Senate hopeful rips McConnell for ‘smearing’ conservatives Dallas Morning News: Cornyn ‘betrays’ GOP by backing Roy Moore Michael Steele: Trump’s feud between Flake and others is personal, not political MORE (R-Ariz.), who is retiring after 2018, went after Moore during a Senate floor speech roughly an hour after the party’s lunch.
Flake echoed other’s criticism of Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who has a penchant for making controversial comments. In 2006, for example, Moore suggested that Rep. Keith EllisonKeith Maurice EllisonFlake says he won’t back Roy Moore, citing Muslim remark DNC, Wbaderman Schultz say they were unaware of dossier payments GOP seizes on new Clinton revelation MORE (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to the House, shouldn’t be allowed to serve.
“When a judge expressed his personal belief that a practicing Muslim should not be a member of Congress because of his religious faith, it was wrong. That this same judge is now my party’s nominee for the Senate from Alabama should concern us all,” Flake said.
Flake, who has said he will not support Moore, added that “religious tests have no place in the United States Congress. Standing up for people of faith, whether Muslim or Catholic, who are facing unfair prejudice should be an act of basic conscience that should be expected of all of us, regardless of party.”
Moore’s stop by the GOP lunch put Republicans in an awkward position of facing questions about Moore while they simultaneously tried to criticize Democrats for questioning the nomination of Amy Barrett, a nominee for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, because of her religious beliefs.
Ellison, weighing in on the judicial vote, questioned if Republicans “know they’ve stood by a Senate candidate who thinks I shouldn’t be able to serve in Congress, simply because of my faith?”
And Senate Democrats quickly seized on Moore’s lunch attendance, with Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzDems to introduce bill barring Trump from preemptive strikes without Congress approval Overnight Health Care: Judge won’t force Trump to make ObamaCare payments | CBO says bipartisan health bill would reduce deficit by B | Trump won’t set ObamaCare sign-up goal The Hill’s 12:30 Report MORE (D-Hawaii) calling Moore a “true moral danger.”
Pressed how they squared their criticism of Democrats with their support for Moore given his previous comments, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynAdvocates pan Trump effort on opioid crisis Dallas Morning News: Cornyn ‘betrays’ GOP by backing Roy Moore Overnight Finance: House adopts Senate budget, taking step to tax reform | GOP worries Trump feuds will endanger tax plan | Trump talks NAFTA withdrawal with senators | Treasury calls for looser oversight of insurers MORE (R-Texas) noted this was one issue where most Senate Republicans would disagree with the candidate.
“I think just because you’re a member of a political party doesn’t mean you agree 100 percent,” Cornyn, who endorsed Moore last week, told reporters. “So I would disagree with that statement and I dare say if you asked each one of the members up here, what they would feel about that, they would say the same thing.”
Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Cybersecurity: Lawmakers grill Trump officials over Kaspersky threat | Trump camp distances itself from data firm | What we know about Bad Rabbit | Conservative groups back data privacy bill Right-leaning groups back international data privacy bill Overnight Health Care: Bipartisan health plan faces new challenge from conservatives MORE (R-Utah) noted that he would support Moore as the GOP candidate and that he was a “nice guy.”
But pressed about his comments on homobaduals and Muslims serving in Congress, Hatch laughed before adding: “Well I have trouble with those [comments].”
Moore appeared to walk back some of his previous remarks on Tuesday, arguing that a “religious test” was unconstitutional.
“There should be no religious test, no. That’s against the Constitution,” Moore told reporters as he walked through the Senate basement.
He also took shot at the media, noting The Washington Post endorsed his opponent and arguing that national reporters portrayed him inaccurately.
“Well I’m a lot different than what The Washington Post has been printing,” Moore told reporters. “I don’t hate people.”