WASHINGTON (REUTERS, AFP) - US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday (Nov 14) that he wanted to work with the White House to explore ways to keep embattled Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore from taking office if he wins a special election in Alabama.
Speaking to reporters at the US Capitol, McConnell said he had been in contact with President Donald Trump and others about the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore.
"He's obviously not fit to be in the United States Senate,"McConnell said, "and we've looked at all the options to try and prevent that from happening."
Five women have accused Moore of sexual misconduct stemming from when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers. Moore, now 70, has denied the allegations.
Trump returns to Washington on Tuesday evening from a 12-day trip to Asia, and McConnell said he planned to discuss Moore's situation with the president. Both are Republicans.
McConnell said he had also spoken with Vice-President Mike Pence and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about Moore.
Trump supported Moore's opponent, Luther Strange, in the Republican primary but threw his support to Moore after Strange was defeated.
McConnell said Republicans were still considering having a candidate launch a write-in campaign against Moore for the Dec 12 special election. Speculation has centered on Strange and the current US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, as possibilities.
McConnell said later in the day that Sessions, who left the Senate seat to become attorney general, would be a plausible write-in candidate.
"He fits the mould of somebody who might be able to pull off a write-in," the majority leader said during a forum on the economy.
Before the allegations surfaced, Moore, a Christian conservative and former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, had been heavily favoured to defeat Democrat Doug Jones, a former US attorney.
A Democratic win in Alabama would be a blow to Trump's agenda and shift the political outlook for next year's congressional elections, giving Democrats a stronger shot at recapturing control of the Senate.
Under state law, Moore cannot be removed from the ballot. "Obviously this close to the election, it's a very complicated matter," McConnell said earlier.
Moore has suggested that McConnell and other establishment Republicans were working in tandem with news media to discredit him.
After McConnell's remarks, Moore responded by tweeting: "The good people of Alabama, not the Washington elite who wallow in the swamp, will decide this election!"
McConnell urged Moore on Monday to leave the race, while Senator Cory Gardner, who chairs the Republican Party's Senate campaign arm, suggested the Senate should expel Moore should he continue campaigning and win.
The Republican National Committee has withdrawn its support for Moore, according to a Federal Election Commission filing on Tuesday, after the party's Senate campaign wing, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, ended a fundraising deal with him on Friday.
Earlier in the day, Sessions said in testimony before Congress that he had no reason to doubt the five women who have accused Moore of misconduct when they were in their teens.
The House of Representatives' top Republican, Speaker Paul Ryan, said he believed Moore's accusers and that Moore should leave the race.
"If he cares about the values and people he claims to care about, then he should step aside," Ryan told a news conference.
Ryan also said Tuesday the House of Representatives will adopt mandatory training on sexual harassment and discrimination, after members of Congress shared stories of women being propositioned and groped in the halls of the US Capitol.
"Our goal is not only to raise awareness, but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution," the Republican speaker said in a statement.
House Democrat Jackie Speier, an advocate for an improved anti-harassment system in Congress, said she was aware of two sitting congressmen, a Republican and a Democrat she did not name, who "have engaged in sexual harassment." One of them had allegedly exposed himself to a young staffer, she said.
On Monday, Beverly Young Nelson became the fifth woman to accuse Moore of misconduct, saying he sexually assaulted her when she was 16 and he was a prosecuting attorney in his 30s.
Moore said on Monday that Nelson's accusations were"absolutely false." Moore has denied the allegations first raised in a Washington Post story about his relationships with four women when they were teenagers, including a charge he initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s.