By TODD RUGER and JOHN T. BENNETT, CQ Roll Call
Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch, in a meeting Wednesday with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, characterized as “disheartening” and “demoralizing” a tweet by President Donald Trump that called a federal judge a “so-called judge.”
The Connecticut Democrat told reporters Gorsuch made the comments after his meeting, and a spokesman for Gorsuch confirmed the comments to CQ Roll Call.
“He certainly expressed to me that he is disheartened by the demoralizing and abhorrent comments made by President Trump about the judiciary, but I will be asking for more specific and forthcoming responses to those kinds of questions before I determine how I will vote,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal said in a statement that he asked Gorsuch to make his statement about Trump’s comments publicly, but Gorsuch declined.
“If he wants the American people to believe that he is truly independent, Judge Gorsuch must tell them in no uncertain terms that President Trump’s attacks are not just disappointing – they are abhorrent and destructive to our Constitutional system – and he must condemn them publicly,” Blumenthal said.
Trump has been particularly critical of U.S. District Judge James Robart, who blocked the president’s recent executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, and indefinitely barring Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S.. The case is currently before a court of appeals. Last week Trump tweeted that Hobart was a “so-called judge” and his ruling “is ridiculous and will be overturned!”
Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, confirmed on MSNBC Wednesday evening that Gorsuch was critical of the personal attacks on a federal judge. Ayotte is serving as Grouch’s so-called sherpa, guiding him through the confirmation process, and was in the meeting with Blumenthal.
“Sen. Blumenthal asked about the president’s comments about Judge [James] Robart and certainly what Judge Gorsuch said was he made clear he couldn’t comment on any particular case, and that’s his responsibility and he had to comply with judicial ethics,” Ayotte said told MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren. “But he did say that any comments from any source that didn’t talk about the merits of the case, but went to either personal integrity or the independence of the judiciary, he found disheartening and demoralizing.”
“It’s very clear that he takes the seriousness of the position, he feels very strongly about the independence of the judiciary,” Ayotte said. “He’s talked about that in every single meeting we’ve been in.”
At a meeting with law enforcement officials Wednesday morning, Trump went directly after the appellate court judges who heard oral arguments about whether a federal court’s decision to freeze his executive order should stand.
Trump used words like “biased” and “political” to describe courts that disagree with him, calling the part of the U.S. Code he used to issue the order “clear” and saying the judges, who could rule as soon as Wednesday, should “do what’s right.”
The White House has yet to respond to a request for comment.
Democrats are expected to raise the issue at Gorsuch’s upcoming confirmation hearings, Blumenthal told reporters Wednesday evening.
“He needs to condemn Donald Trump’s attacks publicly, and it needs to be much stronger, explicit and direct that has been done so far,” Blumenthal said. “Unless it is done publicly, in a clear condemnation, it will not establish his independence.”
“I’m going to press for a real condemnation, in public, as part of what he says between now and the end of the hearing,” Blumenthal added.
Bridget Bowman and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.