Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore denies sexual encounter with teen
If Roy Moore is elected to the Senate, history says he’ll not only take his seat but keep it.
Influential Republican lawmakers, notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., the GOP's Senate campaign chairman, say they don’t want the former Alabama judge as a colleague. They’re disturbed by allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct with teenage girls, including at least one under his state’s age of consent.
But they're fighting tradition, and tradition in the genteel U.S. Senate means a lot. No senator has been expelled since 1862.
Congress has been loathe to formally boot members for behaving badly, no matter how unbecoming or sordid the conduct.
"They are uniformly praying right now that they don’t have to do anything," Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political science professor said of senators. "To an extent, there’s an element of denial, (saying) ‘Okay, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.’ But you’re getting out there with no precedents, not since the 1860s."
The Senate has the power to prevent Moore from serving if he’s elected. Throughout history, fifteen senators have been expelled an, 14 for supporting Confederate causes during the Civil War era. It takes a two-thirds vote to expel a senator, an extremely high bar in today’s highly partisan atmosphere.
"Part of it is self-interest — no sitting member of Congress would want to be expelled or forced from the chamber," said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University in Washington. "There’s this general sense that, once you’re a part of this club, you did a lot to get there and you should be now afforded a level of respect and deference by your colleagues."
Jesse Bright, a Democrat from Indiana, is listed as the last senator expelled by colleagues. He was kicked out for supporting the Confederate rebellion. Since then, Congress has shown a reluctance to formally remove a misbehaving member.
Senate Republicans could try to refuse to seat Moore at all, but that could prove legally difficult thanks to the late Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, a Democrat from New York.
Powell won a Supreme Court case in 1969 after House leaders tried to refuse to seat him following his re-election because he was accused of misappropriating public funds. The justices ruled that Powell had to be seated because he met the Constitution’s age, residency and citizenship requirements to hold office.
With Moore ignoring heavy hints that he’s not welcome in the Senate chamber, lawmakers could find themselves in uncomfortable and unexplored territory if he wins, Lawless said.
"Roy Moore could make history by being expelled but also because he’s behaving in a way that we traditionally have not seen in that he’s refusing to step aside," she said. "It’s not that the Senate is acting differently…they’re sending him clear cues and he’s saying ‘I don’t care."
Shoving Moore out would also likely incur the wrath of a lot of conservatives, notably Steve Bannon, a Moore supporter and President Donald Trump’s ex-strategist. Bannon has declared a political war on establishment Republicans.
“If he wins, and he’s expelled, then the establishment/Bannon war in the Republican Party just escalates one ratchet, two ratchets farther,” Loomis said. “They’re presented with really awful alternatives here.”
Past history doesn’t provide many examples of alternatives to expulsion. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., was censured in 1954 for conduct unbecoming of a senator for engaging in smear tactics and falsely accusing people of being communists during the Cold War in the 1950s. He died in office in May 1957.
In 1967, Sen. Thomas Dodd, D-Conn., was censured for diverting $116,000 in campaign funds for personal use.
"I think a grave mistake has been made, and I am the one who must bear the scar of that mistake for the rest of my life," a contrite Dodd said in a hushed voice on the Senate floor.
He remained in office until 1971 and remained an influential force in the gun control debate a subcommittee that dealt with gun laws after the 1968 assassinations of Sen. Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Even sex scandals that became tabloid fodder haven’t been enough for Congress to expel one of its own.
In 1983, the House reprimanded Reps. Daniel Crane, R-Ill., and Gerry Studds, D-Mass., for having sexual relations with House pages. Crane had engaged with a 17-year-old female page in 1980 and Studds with a 17-year-old male page in 1973.
Studds, the House’s first openly gay member, was stripped of his chairmanship. Massachusetts voters sent Studds back to Washington for six more terms following his censure. Crane lost his re-election bid in 1984.
The House reprimanded Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., in 1990 for ethics violations related to his relationship with a male prostitute.
"These mistakes were mine…All mine," Frank said on the House floor. "I should have known better. Now I do. But it’s a little too late."
Frank remained an influential House member until his retirement in 2013.
Another option to expulsion: Pressuring colleagues to leave.
Sen. Robert Packwood, R-Ore., called it quits in 1995 after he was faced with expulsion stemming from a McConnell-led Senate Ethics Committee investigation into sexual harassment charges.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, quit under expulsion threat following his 2007 arrest at a Minneapolis airport bathroom in an undercover sex sting.
Sen. John Ensign., R-Nev., also got the hint from colleagues and resigned from the Senate in 2011 the wake of a financial and sex scandal.