'Alabama deserves better': Shelby breaks with Republicans to denounce Moore

Alan Yuhas in New York and Ben Jacobs in Montgomery, Alabama
Roy Moore speaks during a campaign event in Fairhope, Alabama. Photograph: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

Alabama’s senior senator has rebuked Roy Moore, the Republican candidate in Tuesday’s special election who has been accused of molestation and sexual misconduct by eight women, including several who were underage at the time.

In doing so, Richard Shelby refused to fall in line with Donald Trump, who was endorsed Moore, and the Republican National Committee (RNC).

“The state of Alabama deserves better,” Shelby told CNN’s State of the Union, stating on national television a position he was already known to hold. “I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore.

“I think the women are believable. I have no reason not to believe them. I didn’t vote for Roy Moore. I wouldn’t vote for Roy Moore. I think the Republican party can do better.”

Eight women have accused Moore of a range of misconduct, including an allegation that he molested a 14-year-old when he was a prosecutor in his 30s. In the days after the Washington Post first reported on the subject, Moore did not rule out that he had dated 17- or 18-year-olds, saying: “If I did, I’m not going to dispute these things, but I don’t remember anything like that.”

He has since denied all the allegations, accusing the Post of pursuing a partisan agenda.

Republicans, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, at first called on Moore to step down, and the party’s fundraising apparatus withdrew its support. But the president eventually endorsed Moore, arguing that he prefers Moore’s partisan vote to a Democrat’s opposition.

When it got to the 14-year-old story, I said that was enough for me, I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore

Senator Richard Shelby

Not long afterward, the RNC renewed funding for Moore. Trump recently recorded a robocall ad for Moore and McConnell has retreated from his earlier position, saying: “I think we’re going to let the people of Alabama decide.”

Shelby is among a handful of prominent Republicans who continues to reject Moore, though he said on Sunday he did not vote for Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate. Instead, he said he wrote in “a distinguished Republican name”.

“I understand where the president is coming from and I understand we would like to retain that seat but I’ll tell you what, there’s a time we call a tipping point,” Shelby said. “When it got to the 14-year-old story, I said that was enough for me, I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore.”

Shelby hinted that should Moore win the election, a Senate investigation into his actions may follow.

“I understand that’s already being contemplated but that would be up to the leadership and others to do that,” he said, insisting that Republicans had the same standards as Democrats, who recently pressed the Minnesota senator Al Franken, accused by eight women of groping and unwanted sexual contact, to resign.

“Whatever you are that you would not put up with the conduct, bad conduct, from a Democrat or a Republican,” Shelby said. “The Senate will weigh, if Roy Moore wins, his fitness to serve.”

The Jones campaign seized on Shelby’s remarks, turning them into two 15-second digital ads.

Senator Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, similarly refused to support Moore, telling NBC’s Meet the Press: “Our party is big enough to have disagreements from the top to where we are.”

Doug Jones, Roy Moore’s Democratic challenger, takes a picture with Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Representative Terri Sewell of Alabama. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

He added: “If he wins we have to seat him and then there’ll immediately be an ethics investigation. As far as I can tell the allegations are significantly stronger than the denial.”

Moore has declined to take questions or interviews in recent weeks, and on Sunday sent one of his top aides, Dean Young, to appear on ABC’s This Week. Young dismissed the possibility of a Senate investigation.

“Judge Moore is gonna be found telling the truth,” he said, “just like he always has.”

If the people of Alabama vote for this liberal Democrat … then they’re voting against the president they put in office

Dean Young, Roy Moore strategist

Young echoed the president’s argument about the importance of partisanship and directly tied Moore’s fate to Trump’s.

“This is Donald Trump on trial in Alabama,” Young said. “If the people of Alabama vote for this liberal Democrat, Doug Jones, then they’re voting against the president who they put in office.”

Young called the allegations against Moore “fake news” and suggested his accusers were motivated by fame. “In this world everyone wants to be on TV, maybe that’s the reason,” he said. “I need you people in Alabama not to fall for all these false allegations.”

Moore has long been a controversial figure in Alabama, disliked by Republican leaders in Washington. He was twice removed as a state judge for refusing to obey federal court orders; has said “homosexual conduct” should be illegal; praised Vladimir Putin; and said America was “great” before the civil war “even though we had slavery”.

In the primary this fall, Trump, McConnell and the party supported Moore’s more conventional opponent, Luther Strange.

In contrast to Moore’s absence from the campaign trail – he has made only one public appearance in the last week, with former White House adviser Steve Bannon – Jones has stumped energetically across the state.

Polls remain too close to call. On Sunday Corey Stewart, a Trump-supporting Senate hopeful from Virginia who this week resurrected the “birther” conspiracy theory about Barack Obama, announced that he would help Moore get out the vote in the last two days of campaigning.

At a press conference in Selma on Saturday, Jones mocked his opponent’s apparent reluctance to campaign. “He seems kind of like the groundhog,” Jones said. “He comes out every so often to see whether or not he can see his shadow.”

Regarding the allegations against Moore, Jones has focused on his pledge not to embarrass Alabama. A campaign mailer risked controversy, however, in asking voters: “Think if a black man went after high school girls anyone would make him a senator?”