Senate GOP to meet tomorrow to discuss "next steps" on Roy Moore

For cripes sake. Must we really go through this charade after a year and a half of the party’s leadership trembling before populists? They didn’t oust Trump at the convention; they didn’t abandon him after the “Access Hollywood” thing; they haven’t confronted him about his freakishly unpresidential tweeting. They’re not going to suddenly catapult Roy Moore out of the Senate. Like I said earlier, even if McConnell has the will, he’ll never find a way. Trump and the White House would lean on Senate Republicans to deny him the 67 votes he needs.

They have to do something, I guess. Cory Gardner, the head of the NRSC, is on record saying Moore should be expelled and McConnell called on him to drop out of the race, saying that he believes Moore’s accusers. At a minimum an ethics committee investigation will be opened, just as it was for Al Franken, if only to save face. Lefty Benjy Sarlin thinks that could prove fruitful for Moore’s enemies as both he and the accusers would presumably give testimony under oath and new dirt might come out. But that assumes that the investigation would be conducted vigorously, which is … not in keeping with ethics committee precedent. And for all his hostility to Moore, McConnell might prefer that the committee *not* find anything new on him. Once the uproar over Moore’s win blows over, McConnell will want to move past it and try to stitch the party back together in hopes of passing legislation. A nasty fight a few months from now over the ethics committee’s findings on Moore will drag Trump into it, will get populists seething at the dreaded establishment again, will distract Congress from its next project — all bad developments in a midterm year.

But what can McConnell do to excommunicate Moore short of expelling him? CNN has some ideas:

Republican leaders won’t commit to giving Roy Moore a seat on any Senate committee if he wins Tuesday’s race for the Alabama seat, a highly unusual move showcasing internal tensions between the controversial candidate and his prospective colleagues…

Being denied a committee assignment could significantly undercut Moore’s ability to be effective in the Senate. It would deny him the ability to work on legislation and attend hearings with witnesses about policy matters, alienating him in a body that already has revolted from him in the aftermath of allegations of sexual misconduct, including with minors.

Two advantages to that: It’s less draconian than expulsion, obviously, which would make it less schismatic, and it could be decided among Senate Republicans without any 67-vote threshold. What happens, though, once Steve Bannon starts complaining about Moore being marginalized and Trump inevitably starts tweeting things how it’s “not nice!” to deny him committee assignments? And if there’s not enough evidence against him to justify expulsion from the Senate for misconduct, why should Moore be denied any committee seats? It can’t be that the accusations against him both have and haven’t been proved true to the satisfaction of his colleagues. Either they’re true or they’re not and he’s a member in good standing or he isn’t. And McConnell’s going to run up against soon-to-be familiar arguments, namely, that the alleged misconduct here occurred years before Moore was elected and Alabamians were fully aware of the allegations and rendered their own verdict on them. On what basis should their representative lose committee power, then?

Lefty Zephyr Teachout argued in an op-ed today that it’s time to take misconduct investigations out of the hands of the toothless ethics committee and empower an outside agency to carry them out. She recommends giving GAO the authority. I like the idea of handing sexual offenses by congressmen over to a body that’ll take them more seriously but we’re kidding ourselves if we think Congress will relinquish power over its own membership to some newly deputized HR department that’s beyond its control. As for Moore, *maybe* McConnell will give him some probationary period in which he’s not named to any committees immediately but will end up on some eventually if he plays nice with leadership. Personally I hope he gets a seat on the Judiciary Committee, as it’d be fun to see a guy who was kicked off the bench twice for refusing to follow higher-court rulings lecturing others on the rule of law.

And watching him grill Trump’s next SCOTUS nominee about whether gays should be locked up would be a hoot.