U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore on Monday criticized a federal court’s decision to partially block President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military.
“That makes me furious, to think that the president of the United States can’t determine our military,” Moore said in what appeared to be an impromptu campaign speech before about two dozen residents at NHC Place, an assisted living home on Greenbrier Dear Road in Anniston.
Moore, a Republican and former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, faces Democrat and former federal prosecutor Doug Jones in a Dec. 12 special election to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate to become U.S. attorney general.
Disciplined by the courts twice for disobeying orders from higher courts — first on courthouse display of the Ten Commandments, and later on same-sex marriage — Moore has long been a celebrity among social conservatives, accustomed to speaking before throngs of supporters.
The Monday visit was more typical of the low-key campaign stops the former Etowah County circuit judge makes in his own back yard. Moore and his wife, Kayla, arrived without a campaign entourage. The visit wasn’t advertised except on posters inside the nursing home. Moore said he was really there to see 96-year-old Mary John Snead, who was Moore’s guidance counselor in high school. Moore credited Snead with helping him to get into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in the 1960s.
“She stopped me in the hallway and said, ‘I thought you wanted to go to the academy. You’re supposed to make your application in your junior year,” Moore said.
Moore told the crowd that transgender troops wouldn’t have been allowed in the military in his day.
“We didn’t want people who didn’t know whether they were male or female in the military, because if they don’t know whether they were male or female, they don’t know what they're going to be doing in battle,” Moore said.
The Obama administration lifted the ban on transgender troops in 2016, after nearly a year of study by the Pentagon. Trump reversed that decision in July in a tweet. Military officials were working out ways to implement Trump’s announced ban in August when transgender troops sued to block it, arguing that they’d come out as transgender because the ban was lifted and would be harmed by an arbitrary return to the ban.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on Monday issued an injunction against the ban, rejecting in her order many of the Trump administration’s claims about the costs of allowing transgender troops to serve.
“In short, the military concerns purportedly underlying the president’s decision had been studied and rejected by the military itself,” the judge wrote.
In an emailed response to Moore’s statement, the Jones campaign later said that Moore “continues to spout divisive rhetoric instead of addressing issues including health care that are important to millions of people in this state.”
Moore told the assisted living home's residents he wanted to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and replace income taxes with a consumption tax, a suggestion that was met with nods.
Members of the audience asked Moore about gridlock in Congress, where Republicans hold majorities in both houses.
“What I’d like to see is us working together,” an audience member said. “We’re getting nothing done.”
Ending gridlock has been a central theme in the Jones campaign. In speeches and ads, the Democrat has stressed his desire to work across the aisle to pass bills. But Moore took the question in stride, saying partisanship is the problem.
“You remember George Wallace, what he said?” Moore asked the audience. “He said there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the parties. Basically he was right.”
Moore didn’t bring up the day’s biggest news bombshell — the arrest of two Trump campaign advisors, and a guilty plea by another, on charges stemming from their connections to the Russian government. Asked what a candidate might do to prevent such missteps, Moore at first chuckled.
“I don’t think the Russians are going to interfere with my campaign,” Moore said.
Moore’s Twitter feed saw a huge upswing in followers earlier this month, the result of thousands of Russian-language accounts that appeared to be automated. Moore denied any involvement with the followers, now purged from his feed. On Monday he described the incident as an “invasion” of his Twitter feed.
Many in the audience already appeared to be in the Moore camp.
“I’ve been a supporter of his all the way, because he’s standing up for what he believes in,” said Cecil Lindley, 101. Lindley said he’d make a point of getting out to vote, because “a Democrat hasn’t been elected in a long time, but this one might have a chance.”
Alabama hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate in two decades. A Fox News poll earlier this month showed Jones and Moore neck-and-neck at 42 percent. Most other polling shows Moore ahead, but within the margin of error.