The Senate may be about to get another disruptor in Alabama Republican Roy Moore.
Unlike the chamber’s existing Republican outliers, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, who challenged the policies of not only Washington but their own party, Moore made his career championing radical views on social issues.
Moore has suggested that homosexuality should be outlawed and that a lawmaker who is Muslim should not be allowed to serve in Congress.
Moore has vigorously embraced President Donald Trump, who ruthlessly attacked Cruz during the presidential race and has had a rocky relationship with conservatives on Capitol Hill. Trump’s race-related comments after Charlottesville drew sharp criticism from many conservative leaders, who sought to separate their policy movement from the social issues that Trump has used to rally his base.
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But the Senate’s disruptors, as well as most fellow Republicans, are welcoming the prospect of having Moore as a colleague. To them, it’s more important to add another constitutionalist — and another Republican.
The three disruptors all spoke to Moore after his Republican primary runoff win over Sen. Luther Strange, the GOP establishment favorite, Tuesday night. Moore is a strong bet to beat Democrat Doug Jones in the Dec.12 general election.
“I look forward to welcoming him to the Senate and we need more strong, principled conservatives in the Senate because we've got work to do,” Cruz told McClatchy in a brief interview Thursday.
Asked about Moore’s history of inflammatory comments, such as his view that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were divine retribution, Cruz deflected.
"I recognize the favorite activity of the Washington press is playing games like that. I'm not interested in playing those games," said Cruz.
It’s a far cry from the Cruz of last month, who spoke out vehemently against white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville. The rally resulted in the death of an anti-supremacist activist. Cruz said after that event that “all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that [white supremacists] propagate.”
“He talks about the constitution, limited government, balanced budgets, so I think there will definitely be some overlap,” Paul said of Moore, declining to specify what policy goals they share. “I’m looking forward to working with him.”
The outliers, each in his first or second Senate term, have tried to push their agenda in several largely unsuccessful ways. They demanded big spending cuts, and were instrumental in leading the 2013 partial government shutdown. But they ultimately lost most fiscal fights as the GOP leadership found enough common ground with Democrats to push through budgets over the years.
Even if Moore joins the three senators, it’s still uncertain just how much clout they’d have. Republicans control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats, and conservatives have found it difficult, if not impossible, to keep the party together on major agenda items such as repealing and replacing Obamacare and enacting deep budget cuts.
Other Republicans simply want more Republicans.
“I’m going to work to get Republicans elected all across the country so we can continue working with President Trump and our agenda,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
Others, perhaps wistfully, suggested that Moore may modify his views once he becomes a U.S. senator.
“When you’re in the middle of elections, there are a lot of things that after the election is over you don’t put that much weight on,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., asked whether he was concerned about any of Moore’s proclamations, including that homosexuality is an “inherent evil.”
Inhofe suggested Moore may already be tempering his remarks, calling his victory speech after winning the primary “much more conciliatory.”
Several defended Moore’s more controversial remarks, even as they suggested that news accounts were not always accurate.
“No offense, but I don’t believe everything I read in the paper about people,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.
As for suggestions that Moore’s remarks are racist or homophobic: “He's entitled to his opinion,” Kennedy said. “This is America; you can believe what you want. You're going to have to talk to him about that."
One Republican admitted to knowing about Moore's record and not liking it — Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is among those targeted by Moore’s conservative allies.
"Yeah, I know his history," Flake told Politico. "I’m obviously not enamored with his politics because that’s not the future of the Republican Party, that’s for sure."
The White House is keeping a distance from Moore. It noted there are differences between Trump and Moore’s views on homosexuality and the belief that Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who is Muslim, should not be allowed to sit in Congress.
“I have not taken a deep dive on every comment that the senator — or the Senate nominee — has made, but I certainly know where the president stands on those issues and wouldn’t see any parallel between the two of them,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.