U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell led a chorus of establishment Republicans on Monday urging Roy Moore, the party’s Senate candidate in Alabama, to quit the race as a fifth woman came forward with allegations Moore had sexual contact with teenage girls decades ago.
Beverly Young Nelson said Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16 and he was a prosecuting attorney in his 30s. At a New York news conference, the tearful Nelson said Moore groped her, tried to pull her shirt off and shove her head in his lap, then warned that “no one will believe you” if she told anyone.
“I was twisting and struggling and begging him to stop,” said Nelson, a waitress at an Alabama restaurant where Moore often ate when the incident occurred. “I had tears running down my face.”
Moore, a Christian conservative and former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has refused to withdraw from the race. His campaign released a statement denying “any sexual misconduct with anyone” and saying the new allegations were part of a “witch hunt.”
McConnell told reporters in his home state of Kentucky that party officials were considering whether a Republican write-in candidate could be found to challenge Moore in the Dec. 12 special election.
“I think he should step aside,” said McConnell, who previously said Moore should leave the race if the allegations were true. “I believe the women.”
Republican Senators Orrin Hatch, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, Todd Young and Cory Gardner joined McConnell in calling for Moore to drop out – a move that could open the door for Democrats to cut into Republicans’ narrow two-seat Senate majority.
Gardner, the head of the Senate Republican campaign arm, said Moore was unfit to serve in the Senate.
“If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate,” Gardner said in a statement.
Senator John Cornyn, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, withdrew his endorsement but said Alabama voters should make the final judgment on Moore.
Another prominent conservative who had endorsed Moore, Senator Ted Cruz, said Moore should either clearly refute the allegations or if they are true, drop out. “I am not able to urge the people of Alabama to support his candidacy so long as these allegations remain unrefuted,” Cruz told reporters in the Capitol.
Moore, 70, had been a heavy favorite to win the election against Democrat Doug Jones. He has denied the allegations first raised in a Washington Post story about his relationships with four women when they were teenagers, including a charge he initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s.
He said on Twitter that McConnell was the person who should step down.