Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) doubled down on claims that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was incensed by President Donald Trump’s recent efforts to undermine the judiciary system.
The lawmakers discussed personal conversations with Gorsuch during separate appearances Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” hours after Trump lashed out at Blumenthal on Twitter.
It’s unclear what Trump’s particular objection is to the remarks made by Blumenthal. The senator was the first person to reveal Gorsuch’s condemnation of Trump’s “so-called judge” tweet that attacked a federal judge who blocked the president’s travel ban of visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries entering the United States.
During a meeting with senators at the White House on Thursday, Trump stood up for his Supreme Court nominee and his qualifications, but once again hammered that the judge’s comments were misrepresented by the Connecticut senator.
“His comments were misrepresented and what you should do is ask Sen. Blumenthal about his Vietnam record which didn’t exist,” Trump said, according to a White House press pool report.
Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for Gorsuch, confirmed to CNN Wednesday that the U.S. Circuit judge had described Trump’s controversial tweet as “disheartening” and “demoralizing” in a conversation with Blumenthal.
Former New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who Trump tapped to shepherd Gorsuch through the nomination process, released a statement Thursday confirming the judge’s comments:
Judge Gorsuch has made it very clear in all of his discussions with senators, including Senator Blumenthal, that he could not comment on any specific cases and that judicial ethics prevent him from commenting on political matters. He has also emphasized the importance of an independent judiciary, and while he made clear that he was not referring to any specific case, he said that he finds any criticism of a judge’s integrity and independence disheartening and demoralizing.
Sasse also called the president’s tweet “disheartening” Thursday and shed light on his conversation with Gorsuch.
“Frankly, [Gorsuch] got pretty passionate about it,” Sasse said. “He said, ‘Any attack on ... brothers or sisters of the robe is an attack on all judges.’”
Sasse later took to the Senate floor to say his and Gorsuch’s comments were being overblown by all sides, and that what they really show is Gorsuch is exactly the kind of judge senators should embrace.
“I hear some people saying Gorsuch, because he’s been nominated by this president ― and a bunch of people don’t like this president ― therefore he couldn’t possibly be independent, he’d be a puppet,” Sasse said, waving around a copy of the notes he took in his meeting. “And there are other people saying in these private meetings, allegedly, Gorsuch has rented a plane and taken out a sky-writing script and he’s out there saying ‘I hate Donald Trump, I hate Donald Trump.’ That’s nonsense. Neither of those things are true.”
Sasse said the judge’s comments were simply a defense of his branch of government, and that Gorsuch pointed to instances in history of past presidents criticizing rulings ― but not the judges ― that were entirely legitimate.
“He is not a puppet and he’s not out there attacking the president of the United States,” Sasse said. “He’s meeting with us trying to explain his view of an independent judiciary.”
Though Gorsuch appears to be fired up about the president’s actions behind closed doors, he hasn’t spoken out against Trump publicly ― something Blumenthal is urging the Supreme Court nominee to do.
“[Gorsuch] should condemn these attacks publicly, unequivocally and clearly,” Blumenthal said. “We’re careening toward a constitutional crisis way bigger than me or even Judge Gorsuch. These attacks on the judiciary are abhorrent and extraordinarily dangerous for our constitutional democracy.”
Despite Gorsuch’s confirmed criticism of Trump, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Thursday on “Fox & Friends” that the president is “fully confident in the nominee.”
This post has been updated with comments made Thursday by Trump during a meeting with senators and by Sasse on the Senate floor.