President Donald Trump all but endorsed Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore on Tuesday, discounting the sexual assault allegations against him and insisting repeatedly that voters must not support Moore’s “liberal” rival.
The president said he would announce next week whether he will campaign for Moore, who faces Democrat Doug Jones in a Dec. 12 special election to fill the seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Insiders say that Trump will remain in Washington, D.C. and focus on federal issues, however.
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Trump dismissed questions from reporters about backing a Republican accused of sexual assault over a man who is a Democrat. Trump pointed to Moore’s assertions that he did nothing wrong.
“Roy Moore denies it, that’s all I can say,” Trump said. In fact, he repeated 10 times in a 5-minute session outside the White House that the GOP candidate has denied any wrongdoing.
While Trump didn’t explicitly say he was endorsing Moore, he said with emphasis, “We don’t need a liberal person in there. … We don’t need somebody who’s soft on crime like Jones.”
He also noted that the allegations came from behavior alleged to have happened decades ago.
“Forty years is a long time,” Trump said, questioning why it took so long for Moore’s accusers to come forward.
Former Sen. Sessions has said he has no reason to doubt the allegations against Moore, establishment Republican leaders in Washington have called for Moore to leave the race, and the White House has repeatedly said Trump himself felt Moore would “do the right thing and step aside” if the allegations proved true.
But when Trump exchanged questions and answers with reporters on Tuesday, shouting to be heard over the noise of his Marine helicopter, waiting to take him to Air Force One, which then flew him to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, for Thanksgiving, he was clear: Moore was his man.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, both Republicans, have called on Moore to leave the race in light of the accusations. The Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have pulled their support for his campaign.
Trump backed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in a September Republican primary, but moved quickly to embrace Moore after he won. A White House official said Tuesday that Trump’s attack on Jones did not amount to a formal endorsement of Moore, only that Trump was communicating that sending the Democrat to Washington would hamper his agenda.
Republican leaders briefly explored the possibility of seeking a write-in candidate but have determined those efforts would only increase Jones’ chances by splitting the GOP vote in the Republican state. Sessions has resisted pleas to mount a last-minute campaign for his old seat.
The allegations against Moore come amid a national reckoning over misdeeds by powerful men in media, business and politics.
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Trump said he was “very happy” that women are speaking out about their experiences.
“I think it’s a very special time because a lot of things are coming out, and I think that’s good for our society and I think it’s very, very good for women,” he said.
Moore’s camp has been firing back at the media and one of the accusers. His campaign held an afternoon news conference to vigorously question the account of Beverly Nelson, who said Moore assaulted her when she was a 16-year-old waitress.
The campaign quoted two former restaurant employees and a former customer who said they did not remember Nelson working there or Moore eating there.
The Associated Press contributed to this article