Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is getting more specific about what he sees as perhaps the best, if impractical, option for preventing an Alabama Senate seat from falling into the hands of GOP nominee Roy Moore or a Democrat. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee has pulled its financial support from Moore's campaign.
At a Wall Street Journal event on Tuesday, McConnell said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions "would fit the profile" of someone who could run a competitive write-in bid for his old seat, which Moore is running to fill.
"He's totally well-known and extremely popular in Alabama," McConnell said during the interview. Though, McConnell acknowledged how difficult such an effort would be. It's too late to take Moore's name off the ballot, and he is rallying his supporters against McConnell's pressure to quit the race in the face of allegations from a number of women who say he pursued them romantically or sexually assaulted them as teenagers.
A source close to Sessions tells NPR's Carrie Johnson that the attorney general has been telling people in Alabama that he is not interested in returning to the Senate. In unrelated testimony, Sessions told lawmakers on Tuesday morning that he "reveres" his job as attorney general.
McConnell's increasing pressure, saying at the Tuesday event that Moore's campaign is "collapsing," comes as other GOP leaders in Washington joined in that chorus.
The Republican National Committee filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission Tuesday night to sever fundraising ties with Moore. An amended joint fundraising committee filing showed the Alabama Republican Party now remains the only financial partner with Moore. The National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled out of the same agreement last week.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said at a news conference on Tuesday that Moore "should step aside" before the Dec. 12 special election. Ryan told reporters, "No. 1, these allegations are credible. No. 2, if he cares about the values and the people he claims to care about, then he should step aside."
McConnell, who on Monday called on Moore to step aside, said earlier on Tuesday, "He's obviously not fit to be in the United States Senate, and we've looked at all the options to try to prevent that from happening."
Five women have publicly accused Moore of making unwanted sexual advances. Moore has denied the accusations and refused to remove himself from the campaign.
Tuesday, Moore took aim at GOP leaders on Twitter.
Sessions was asked about the accusations at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday and said, "I have no reason to doubt these young women."
Republicans fear Moore's candidacy may have a toxic effect on other GOP candidates in next year's midterm elections, but they have few options available if Moore remains in the Alabama race.
"This close to the election its a very complicated matter," McConnell said. He added, "Once the president and his team get back, we'll have further discussions about it." Trump has yet to weigh in on the controversy. He is to arrive back in Washington Tuesday night from a trip through Asia.
The head of the Republicans' Senate campaign committee, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, has called for expelling Moore if he wins.
But there is no modern precedent for such a move. It would first require an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee, and it's unclear whether the panel would have any jurisdiction over something that happened before a senator was elected.
Republicans acknowledge there may be no legal or constitutional basis to deny Moore a seat in the Senate if he wins next month.
"I believe that if he were elected by the people of Alabama that it would be very difficult and would create constitutional issues were he not to be seated," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Doug Jones, Moore's Democratic opponent in the special election, appears to be trying to capitalize on the scandal with a new ad out Tuesday, highlighting GOP voters who say they are fed up with Moore.
"He's already been removed from office twice," one woman says, referring to the former Alabama chief justice's removal twice from the bench — first for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument he'd placed in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building and later for ordering state judges not to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
"This time it's even worse," a man says. "You read the story and it just shakes you," a woman adds, though the details of the scandal are never directly referenced.
With Republicans holding a vast advantage in registered voters in Alabama, Democrats in Washington are treading lightly. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., called Alabama "a tough place for Democrats to win." He said party leaders are going to have to take a close look at whether pouring money into the race "is a wise expenditure." Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., called Jones "a great local candidate" who is "all about Alabama."