GOP senators on what to do if Roy Moore wins: ‘We’ll see’

Since the sexual assault allegations against Roy Moore first went public last month, Republicans in the Senate have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from their potential colleague.

Close to half of the 52-member majority promptly called for him to drop out of the Alabama Senate race. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said an ethics investigation is “almost certain” to take place if Moore becomes the next senator from Alabama. Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona even wrote a check to Moore’s Democratic opponent — and then tweeted a photo of it.

But few are willing to go as far as Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, who last month said the Senate should vote to “expel” him.

On the eve of the special election between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, many Republicans — even some of Moore’s fiercest critics — were wary of wading into the hypothetical question of how to handle his possible arrival to Washington.

“I hope that Alabama voters choose the Democrats,” Flake told reporters Monday night at the Capitol.

And if not?

“We’ll see,” the retiring Arizona senator said.

The Tuesday election comes less than a week after Senate Democrats rained down calls on Minnesota Sen. Al Franken to resign amid allegations of sexual harassment, attempting to send a signal of zero tolerance in the upper chamber.

One of the more immediate questions looming is whether Moore will be accepted into the GOP conference and given committee assignments, especially as he undergoes investigation as expected. Moore sharply denies the allegations made against him, and any probe would likely be a lengthy and arduous affair.

“Let’s see what happens tomorrow. Let’s address it after that,” said Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said on Monday night. “Let’s see what happens.”

Sen. Richard Shelby, the senior senator from Alabama who refused to vote for Moore, said Monday that such decisions were for McConnell. “That’s beyond me,” he said. “First let’s see what happens tomorrow and then go from there.”

But McConnell also said that’s a question for later. “That’s a good conversation for sometime after tomorrow,” McConnell said Monday.

While many senators support the idea of the ethics probe, any talk of expulsion carries far more weight. The Senate has only voted to expel 15 senators in the past, according to the Senate’s historical records.

Republican senators have publicly struggled with the issue of potential expulsion, expressing sharp disdain for Moore on the one hand, but showing concern about balancing the people’s will with the autonomy of the Senate on the other.

“I’ll have a hard time, quite frankly, keeping somebody in the body that I think molested a child, but we’ll see what happens,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said. “We’ll see what the people of Alabama say. But the Senate will also speak. There’s a process within the Senate to regulate membership of the body. From a political point of view there is no winning with Roy Moore in my view.”

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine mulled over the idea at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast less than two weeks ago. “If the voters of the state, fully knowing all of these allegations, nevertheless choose to elect Roy Moore, is it appropriate for the Senate to expel him?” Collins asked. “I think that’s a really difficult question, and I don’t know the answer to that yet.”

One Republican senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, has not publicly withdrawn his support for Moore’s candidacy. He declined to answer questions Monday night in the Capitol.