WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump said Sunday that electing a Democrat as Alabama's next senator "would be a disaster," making clear the success of his legislative agenda outweighs widespread GOP repulsion at the prospect of seating Republican Roy Moore, who is dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct.
The allegations, including claims that the 70-year-old Moore sexually assaulted or molested two teenage girls while he was in his 30s, have made the Dec. 12 election a referendum on "the character of the country" that transcends partisan politics, said GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, as the party establishment cringed at Trump's latest intervention in the closely contested race.
"In my opinion, and in the opinion of many Republicans and conservatives in the Senate, it is time for us to turn the page because it is not about partisan politics. It's not about electing Republicans versus Democrats," Scott said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
"It's about the character of our country," he said.
Trump on Sunday once again plunged himself into the race, declaring in a pair of tweets — without mentioning Moore by name — that electing Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, would "be a disaster."
"The last thing we need in Alabama and the U.S. Senate is a Schumer/Pelosi puppet who is WEAK on Crime, WEAK on the Border, Bad for our Military and our great Vets, Bad for our 2nd Amendment, AND WANTS TO RAISES TAXES TO THE SKY," he wrote from Florida, referring to Democrats' congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.
Jones, speaking to reporters in Birmingham, shrugged off Trump's criticisms, saying he would not be a partisan voter. He said Alabamians are focused on issues such as the economy, education and health care.
"My record speaks for itself ... I think I am very strong on the issues that the people of Alabama care for," Jones said.
Jones, a former federal prosecutor, said he would be an independent voice in the U.S. Senate, similarly to his political mentor, the late U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin, who represented the state for nearly 20 years.
Jones' campaign issued a more biting statement saying, "Roy Moore was unfit for office even before nine Alabama women served as witnesses to all Alabamians of his disturbing conduct."
Two women have accused Moore of sexually assaulting or molesting them decades ago, when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers. Moore has denied the accusations. At least five others have said he pursued romantic relationships when they were teenagers and he was a prosecutor. Moore has said he never dated "underage" women.
Moore has had few public appearances since the accusations surfaced earlier this month, but his campaign quickly touted the president's tweets, adding "We will defeat him on Dec. 12," a reference to Jones.
Trump had stayed silent on Moore for days until all but endorsing him while departing for Washington last week. The president dismissed questions from reporters about his willingness to back a Republican accused of sexual assault over a Democrat.
Trump, who won election despite facing more than a dozen accusations of sexual misconduct himself, appeared last Tuesday to shrug off the allegations against Moore, saying, "Forty years is a long time."
Trump has no campaign events for Moore scheduled at this time, said White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters.
Top Republicans in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, have called for Moore to leave the race, and the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have pulled their support for his campaign.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has also called for Moore to step down, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that Trump is "definitely trying to throw a lifeline to Roy Moore."
But Graham said when it comes to Moore, it's unclear "what winning looks like."
"If he wins, we get the baggage of him winning and it becomes a story every day about whether or not you believe the women or Roy Moore, should he stay in the Senate, should he be expelled. If you lose, you give the Senate seat to a Democrat at a time we need all the votes we can get," he said, referring to Republicans' current 52-48 majority in the Senate.
"The moral of the story is: Don't nominate somebody like Roy Moore who could actually lose a seat that any other Republican could win," Graham said.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said he'd like to see Trump "come out and support what many of us have said and that is that Roy Moore needs to step aside" and "allow somebody else to be a write-in candidate."
He said on "Fox News Sunday" that if Moore ends up winning and comes to Washington in January, he will be the immediate subject of an ethics investigation, "which is going to be a cloud that he'll be operating in and it's going to be a distraction for us and for our agenda."
Other Republican leaders worry a write-in candidate could wind up helping Jones by splitting the GOP vote.
Trump backed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in the September Alabama Republican primary but moved quickly to embrace Moore after he won. The seat opened up after Republican Jeff Sessions was tapped as U.S. attorney general.
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