White House waits for McConnell to spell out Alabama options
Posted November 17, 2017 2:36 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The top Republican in the Senate plans to urge President Donald Trump to help contain the damage in the Alabama Senate race, though administration officials cautioned that Trump remains hesitant to get involved as the scandal surrounding Roy Moore grows.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is set to deliver a memo to the White House that spells out ways the December 12 special election could be delayed, including by applying pressure to Alabama's Republican governor, the officials said.
But the memo, which was still in the works Thursday and Friday, appears unlikely to convince Trump -- who has been notably mum on the topic -- to intervene in the race.
The White House expects McConnell to urge the White House in the memo to pressure Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to delay next month's special election to undercut the support that Moore, who is facing allegations that he pursued sexual relationships with teenage girls, is receiving from Alabama Republicans, a senior administration official said. Moore has vehemently denied the allegations.
Ivey, however, has already publicly rejected calls to delay the election and has told White House emissaries as much in informal conversations, a source familiar with the calls told CNN. And the senior administration official -- while cautioning that things can change quickly with Trump --- said it was highly unlikely the President or White House officials will press Ivey to delay the contest.
Trump has expressed misgivings about intervening in the race, concerned about drawing ire from his pro-Moore base by telling Alabamans what to do and wary of bringing more attention to the sexual misconduct allegations he faced last year.
The differing approaches favored by McConnell and the White House underscore the tension Washington Republicans face as the Alabama election nears. Moore, the GOP candidate, has remained defiant, and his wife reiterated on Friday that he has no plans to drop out of the race.
Trump, who has talked with McConnell about the race, has remained almost entirely silent on the matter, addressing it only once as he flew between cities in Vietnam last week. His aides insist the President wants voters in Alabama to determine Moore's fate.
"The President has been clear on this. We have to trust the people of Alabama to make the right decision," Marc Short, the President's legislative affairs director, told CNN on Friday. "Everyone wants to decide for them. The President weighed in and it's now up to them to make a decision."
Trump has encouraged the hands-off approach in the absence of any good options for getting involved, White House officials said. He's worried about alienating Moore's supporters if he takes steps that would prevent him from being elected -- a reflection, aides said, of Trump's longstanding fears of losing his base.
Some White House officials encouraged the idea of sending Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Alabama to run as a write-in candidate for the special election prompted by his own departure from the Senate.
But Trump viewed that scenario as far-fetched and has not encouraged it, one official said, viewing the risks of splitting the vote and having to confirm a new attorney general as far outstripping any potential benefit.
Trump originally backed Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama's GOP primary at the advice of McConnell and his political team. After Strange lost, Trump felt misled, believing Strange to be a low-energy establishment pick who wasn't aligned with his core group of supporters, according to aides.
After Moore's win, Trump enthusiastically backed him, and deleted all references to his Strange endorsement on Twitter.
Despite his later endorsement of Moore, White House officials pointed to Trump's original support for Strange on Friday as they defended his decision to remain on the sidelines.
"The President campaigned against Roy Moore," Short said. "He campaigned for Luther Strange. The President was active in this campaign. He chose a different candidate."