WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) — President Trump believes that the people of Alabama should decide whether to elect Roy Moore, despite mounting allegations of sexual assault and harassment of girls as young as 14 years old, the White House said.
"Look, the president believes these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he believes the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their senator should be," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.
The statement ended days of silence from the White House, since the allegations first arose last week while Trump was on a 12-day Asia trip. But Sanders stopped short of calling for Moore to drop out of the race, as other Republican senators have done.
Trump has been attempting to perform something of high-wire act on Moore. After endorsing his primary opponent, Luther Strange, Trump offered Moore an olive branch after he became the Republican nominee. "Sounds like a really great guy who ran a fantastic race," he tweeted, adding the #MAGA hashtag and saying Moore would make America great again.
After the sexual harassment charges arose, Sanders issued a statement saying that Trump expected that, if the allegations are true, "Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside."
On Thursday, Sanders said that position has not changed. "He still firmly believes that," she said. She declined to say whether Trump stood by his endorsement of Moore, and didn't know whether Trump would campaign for him. But she said Trump supported the decision by the National Republican Senate Committee to withdraw its support for Moore's campaign.
Trump himself has since declined to answer repeated questions about whether Moore should drop out, and Sanders gave no hint that Trump would personally address the issue. "It's actually my job to come out here and answer questions on his behalf," she said.
Asked about sexual harassment allegations that arose on Thursday against Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Sanders responded: "It appears that the Senate is looking into that, as it should. We feel that is an appropriate reaction."
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