Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a frequent critic of his party who is retiring from the Senate in 2018, used a speech in favor of a conservative judicial nominee to condemn Senate nominee Roy Moore of Alabama, who was in the Capitol on Tuesday to meet with potential future colleagues.
“When the presidential nominee of my party, the party of Lincoln, called for a Muslim ban, it was wrong, and I said so,” Flake said. “When a judge expressed his personal belief that a Muslim should not be a member of Congress because of his faith, it was wrong. That this same judge is now my party’s nominee for the Senate should concern us all. Religious tests have no place in the United States Congress.”
Flake, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is one of just two Republicans to criticize Moore since he secured his nomination on Sept. 26. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), also a critic of President Trump, said last week that the Alabama race disgusted him, citing the same problem as Flake — a 2006 column in which Moore, then a former State Supreme Court chief justice, said that Congress should refuse to seat Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).
“You can’t have people running for office saying that being a Muslim would be a disqualification for being in Congress,” Sasse said. “The Constitution is pretty dang clear about not having a religious litmus test.”
But no other Senate Republicans have criticized Moore, which made this week’s nomination battle slightly awkward for the majority. Democrats, they said, had engaged in “anti-Catholic” animus by attacking Amy Barrett, a conservative Catholic law professor who has questioned the legal rationale behind Roe v. Wade.
Republicans trained their fire on Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who accused Barrett at a hearing of letting “dogma” overwhelm legal reasoning, then expanded to attacking any Democrat who opposed Barrett. After a cloture vote on Monday night, the National Republican Senate Committee attacked Democrats in swing states with large Catholic populations, implying that they were applying a religious test.
“Senate Democrats’ attempt to impose a religious test on the federal bench is shameful, and flies in the face of our Constitution,” said National Republican Senate Committee Communications Director Katie Martin in a news release aimed at Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich). “Debbie Stabenow’s refusal to stand up to her colleagues, who believe a nominee’s religious beliefs should disqualify them from serving as a judge, will not soon be forgotten by Michigan voters.”
Also on Monday, a group of Senate Republicans held a news conference to talk about “religious liberty” in the context of Barrett’s nomination. But they evaded questions about Moore, who has suggested a religious test of his own. Moore, when approached by NBC’s Frank Thorp, said that he would not answer “any questions on issues” while visiting the Senate.
Q: Do you still believe @keithellison should not be a member of Congress because he’s Muslim?
Roy Moore: “I’ll address that later.”
Q: Do you still think homosexual conduct should be illegal?
Moore: “I’m not answering any questions on issues right now.”
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) October 31, 2017
In his floor speech, Flake chastised Democrats for opposing Barrett, before pivoting to discuss — but not name — Moore.
“It is no better for Democrats to evaluate a judicial nominee based on how many books are in her Bible, than it is for Republicans to judge a congressman who swears his oath on the Koran,” Flake said.
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