“If he cares about the values that he claims to care about,” Paul Ryan said of Roy Moore at his daily presser this morning, “then he should step aside.” The House Speaker continues the tsunami of Republicans distancing themselves from the special-election candidate in Alabama, but this has a distinction. Moore had made Mitch McConnell a target in his campaign against the GOP establishment, but Ryan had largely been a non-combatant — until now:
Speaker Paul Ryan: If Roy Moore "cares about the values of the people he claims to care about, then he should step aside." pic.twitter.com/gStWyS6OEr
— ABC News (@ABC) November 14, 2017
House Speaker Paul Ryan urged Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore to step aside Tuesday morning just a day after another accuser came forward alleging that Moore assaulted her when she was a teenager.
“He should step aside,” Ryan said during his news conference. “Number one, these allegations are credible. Number two, if he cares about the values that he claims to care about, then he should step aside.”
“These allegations are credible” is a fancier way of saying “I believe the women,” as McConnell declared yesterday, but it’s the shot on values that might hurt the most. Ryan is challenging Moore to demonstrate that he’s not a hypocrite by pulling out of the race. Note the emphasis on “he claims to care about,” a personal dig from a Speaker not known to engage in such.
Will that move Moore? Almost certainly not while he’s clinging to the story that none of this has any basis in fact. That’s a value, too — perseverance in the face of attacks — that only has virtue if Moore is in fact innocent. Given the credibility of the accusers and witnesses, and Moore’s flat denial of knowing Beverly Young Nelson at all while she has her sophomore yearbook with his signature in it, it looks less like a virtue at the moment and more like a rhetorical and legal refuge.
Will Moore get some unexpected help from higher up the GOP food chain? Washington Examiner reporter Sarah Westwood hears some rumblings from the White House about how Trump might react. Pushing Moore out might open a path for Trump to change leadership at the Department of Justice too, but Westwood’s source things Trump might see this as an opportunity of another sort:
One R close to the White House tells me Trump is tempted "to weigh in the opposite of what the establishment wants Moore to do.” https://t.co/BVV9DTj8rt
— Sarah Westwood (@sarahcwestwood) November 14, 2017
But some West Wing aides floated the idea to reporters that Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, could name Sessions to his old seat in the event Moore wins the contest next month and gets expelled from the upper chamber by his peers.
A Republican close to the White House said the plan, which would create a high-profile vacancy atop the Justice Department, is not outside the realm of possibility.
“Nothing is too farfetched here. However, Jeff Sessions would have to agree to this which doesn’t seem likely,” the Republican told the Washington Examiner.
“We will have to see what Trump does when he returns to the United States because he is distracted at the moment,” the Republican said. “One can imagine he is going to weigh in the opposite of what the establishment wants Moore to do.”
If Sessions wanted to stay in the Senate, he would have declined the Attorney General appointment. After several months on the job in the Trump administration and at least two seasons of public attacks by the president, however, maybe this wouldn’t be as unlikely an outcome as Westwood’s source believes. Sessions went to Capitol Hill today to contend with Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, and he might be pining for the days when he sat on the other side of the chamber.
Ryan’s declaration might dissuade Trump from publicly supporting Moore. He’s had a contentious relationship with Mitch McConnell but not with Ryan so far this year. The combined stance should warn Trump that Moore is politically radioactive — and that the situation actually bears out his original decision to endorse Luther Strange in the GOP primary for this special election. Trump has an opportunity to say, “I told you so,” and Trump passes up few such opportunities. Ryan might want to remind the White House of that point before Trump decides that the enemy of my establishment is my friend.