He’s questioned Keith Ellison’s (D-MN) standing in government for being a Muslim, said he believes homosexuality should be illegal, and has twice been removed from his seat on Alabama’s top court.
Now Alabama Senate frontrunner Roy Moore — who earned his nomination in large part by trashing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — has traveled to Washington to win the hearts and pockets of Republicans.
Per tradition as a Republican nominee, Moore attended the Senate GOP’s weekly policy luncheon Tuesday, briefly addressing the body he will very likely be joining next year. (Moore is up 17 points in the polls less than two months from Election Day.)
Most Republican senators endorsed Moore’s primary opponent, incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, but now, in the name of party and country, they’ve changed their tune. He has a fundraiser scheduled with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on Wednesday and the full weight of the Republican establishment behind him.
“He’s the nominee. I’m a Republican. I support the party.” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said.
Asked to answer to Moore’s comments about Islam and homosexuality, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) chalked it up to the pressure of campaigning.
“I don’t believe everything I read, particularly on the internet, that’s number one,” Kennedy said. “Number two, campaigns are — how can I put this — it’s not beanbag. Campaigns get tough, and people say things and allegedly say things and sometimes they shouldn’t say ’em and sometimes they didn’t even say ’em.”
Most of Moore’s controversial beliefs predate the election. Walking through the Capitol Building Tuesday carrying a bag that had “Freedom” printed on the side, Moore wouldn’t answer if he still stood behind past claims about Ellison and Islam. He called it a "very complicated question" and he’d "address it" at another time.
Senate Republicans are sticking with party, and that means excusing Moore
In his visit to Washington, Moore has met with McConnell and the GOP conference. The Republican establishment, despite pouring hundreds of thousands into Strange’s campaign in the Republican primary, has now turned its focus to raising funds for Moore.
And as for Moore’s controversial and offensive comments?
“We don’t have to agree with everything they say,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the Republican Party’s majority whip, said after the lunch. “As a matter of fact, I don’t agree with some of the things he’s said. But he’s the nominee and I’d rather him than the Democrat.”
Only two months ago, Cornyn was expressing concern that Moore wouldn’t be a team player. “Look at his track record,” Cornyn said in September.
There’s no question that Moore represents a religious far-right fringe in the party, as Jeff Stein writes for Vox:
The controversial Moore is best known for his embrace of Christian theocratic principles, or a system of government where Christian laws are the basis of all law. In the past, he’s referred to the Christian God as "the only source of our law, liberty and government,” said that the First Amendment did not apply to Muslims because it was based on Jesus’s words, and hinted that homosexuality should be a capital crime. He’s also claimed that there are portions of the American Midwest living under Sharia law.
“I mean I don’t agree with that at all and I don’t know him, but one of things I have found there is probably no senator I agree with 100 percent on any issue here,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) said — saying his support for Moore was because of the “broader agenda.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he didn’t know anything about Moore. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Corker (R-TN) said they were going to stay out of the race. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who announced his retirement with a scathing indictment of the GOP’s direction on immigration and Islam, said Moore’s positions are concerning.
Moore’s visit to the Capitol came the same day Republicans took the Senate floor in the name of religious liberties — decrying the Democratic senators who questioned whether judicial nominee Amy Barrett’s Catholic faith would impact her legal decisions in a confirmation hearing in early October.
“Today in this Senate, we have seen repeatedly nominees grilled not for their qualifications, not for their record, but for their faith,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said at a press conference this week. Asked whether he stands by Moore’s statements about Islam, Cruz — who has thrown his support behind Moore — said only, “I don’t know every comment made by every candidate for office but I believe we should be following the Constitution of the United States, and Article Six of the Constitution says there shouldn’t be any religious tests.”
Republicans did not offer the same censuring for Moore.
“We want him to join us in the United States Senate,” Kennedy said.
Moore isn’t going to be the Republican vote the GOP wants
All of this has been pushed aside for party — and for the agenda the party has so far had some difficulty in executing.
“I know very little about Judge Moore, but I just look at what’s going on the Senate right now; we have unprecedented obstruction,” Sullivan said. “Having additional members in the Senate along the lines of what Luther Strange was focused on — what would concern the party as a whole is if we had someone who joining forces with the minority leader to obstruct the agenda.”
His sentiment was widely shared.
“I’ve got one thing on my mind: increasing our majority,” Kennedy said. “And I have every expectation that Judge Moore will be a productive member of the United States Senate and a productive member of the Republican conference. And I truly believe that.”
Moore is likely to replace Republican Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to sit in now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s seat. But unlike Strange, who sided closely with Republican leadership and the president, Moore is less likely to be a reliable vote for Republican Party. Moore campaigned on being a thorn in the Republican Party’s side. He said he wouldn’t have voted for the Republican Obamacare repeal bill, and his support from fringe anti-establishment conservatives like Steve Bannon indicates his agenda won’t line up with the GOP’s.
In an email to fundraisers in September, he pitched his candidacy like this:
"Judge Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate means the END of Mitch McConnell's reign as Majority Leader."