WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch told a U.S. senator on Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s tweets about the judiciary are “demoralizing” and “disheartening.”
In a meeting with Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Gorsuch, who’s largely been silent since Trump nominated him last week, took exception to Trump calling a federal judge in Seattle a “so-called judge” after blocking the president’s travel ban.
“He said very specifically that they were demoralizing and disheartening and he characterized them very specifically that way,” Blumenthal said of Gorsuch. “I said they were more than disheartening and I said to him that he has an obligation to make his views clear to the American people, so they understand how abhorrent or unacceptable President Trump’s attacks on the judiciary are.”
Gorsuch sits on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver and lives in Boulder.
Ron Bonjean, who is leading communications for Gorsuch during the confirmation process, confirmed Gorsuch called Trump’s tweet about the “so-called judge” “disheartening” and “demoralizing” in his conversation with Blumenthal.
Trump’s comments could complicate the upcoming hearings for Gorsuch, who is certain to face questions about Trump’s tweets from Democrats. Liberals, already concerned with Gorsuch’s record, have also asked how he will demonstrate independence from the president.
But Gorsuch’s statement could help him with some moderate lawmakers. In the private meeting with Blumenthal, and in one with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, Gorsuch seems to be trying to address the issue proactively.
Gorsuch told Schumer in a meeting Tuesday that an attack on his fellow judges is an attack on all, and he said he is incredibly disheartened when people attack his fellow judges, according to a source familiar with the discussion who paraphrased the judge’s comments.
He also told Schumer that judges are used to being criticized and are no one’s lackeys.
Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he brought up examples of Trump’s recent rhetoric, including the tweets and the president’s criticism of the federal court Wednesday morning before law enforcement officials.
That’s when Gorsuch expressed disappointment in Trump’s comments, Blumenthal said.
“He didn’t disagree with me on that point,” Blumenthal said.
“I said to him if a litigant before your court — and the President of the United States is in fact a litigant right now in the immigration ban cases — said what President Trump said, you would hold him in contempt of court,” Blumenthal said, adding that Gorsuch did not give a response to that comment.
Schumer spokesman Matt House said Gorsuch isn’t going far enough.
“Given the president’s comments, that’s a very milquetoast response,” House said. “Anyone can be disheartened, but the judge refused to condemn the comments privately or publicly.”
Gorsuch meeting with senators
Gorsuch has been meeting with senators on both sides of the aisle since being nominated last week.
Blumenthal said the two men met for 40 minutes in the senator’s office, where they discussed their shared running habits and “common love for the outdoors,” among more serious conversations about Gorsuch’s judicial views and background.
While Blumenthal described the meeting as “amicable,” he said he was “disappointed” in Gorsuch’s responses to his questions and felt he was not being forthcoming and specific enough.
He said he was especially looking for more answers on Gorsuch’s thoughts about reproductive rights, workers’ rights and consumer protection issues.
Asked if Blumenthal is open to supporting Gorsuch, the senator said he will wait until after the Judiciary Committee holds hearings on Gorsuch’s nomination to make a final decision but that he has “serious and deep concerns” about him.
Blumenthal said he supports requiring a 60-vote threshold to confirm the Supreme Court nominee, and if he decides to oppose Gorsuch, Blumenthal said he will use “every tool” at his disposal to fight the nomination.
Republicans need eight of their Democratic colleagues to break that threshold and prevent a filibuster.
Blumenthal was one of three Democratic senators that Gorsuch met with on Wednesday. He also sat down with Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — two states that Trump won.