Gorsuch Distances Himself From Trump's Attacks On Judges, Senator Says

Feb 9, 2017
Originally published on February 9, 2017 6:18 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch has been meeting senators, and he is talking about the attacks on the judiciary by the president who nominated him. President Trump, in a series of statements in recent days, has denounced the judge who blocked his travel ban and also questioned an appeals court that's considering that travel ban and also urged blame on the whole, quote, "court system." A Gorsuch spokesman confirms that he responded to all of that when talking with Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal who is on the line.

Senator, good morning.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Good morning to you. Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: What did Gorsuch say?

BLUMENTHAL: He said that these attacks on the judiciary are disheartening and demoralizing. After I pressed him on the topic by raising it and saying that there has to be a public condemnation of this unprecedented, vicious series of personal invectives and insults that threaten the independence of the judiciary...

INSKEEP: When you say there has to be a public condemnation, do you mean you're telling Neil Gorsuch you must publicly condemn the president of the United States for this?

BLUMENTHAL: Telling me, behind closed doors in a private meeting, that these attacks are demoralizing or disheartening is simply not enough. He has to be public in his criticism. And it has to be more than just mild or indirect. It has to be very explicit and direct.

INSKEEP: Why is it important what Neil Gorsuch says or doesn't say about the president's tweets and other statements?

BLUMENTHAL: He is the president's nominee at a time when we are careening toward a constitutional crisis. Never before has a president so bullied and blustered and jeopardized the independence of the judiciary. And he's also established a litmus test - or really a series of tests saying that his nominee has to be pro-life, very pro-Second Amendment and conservative. Unless Neil Gorsuch very specifically makes his views clear, we have to assume he meets the Trump litmus test.

So I think that this nomination faces a very different situation than normally would prevail when nominees might say I can't comment. I have to be vague because the case or issue may come before the court. And we are in a crisis that is of Donald Trump's making with the immigration order that raises severe constitutional questions...

INSKEEP: Right.

BLUMENTHAL: ...And his attacks on the judiciary.

INSKEEP: If I can just ask - in addition to saying that the president's remarks were disheartening, did he go on to say to you - don't worry, Senator. I'll be independent. I don't agree with this. I won't allow it. I won't be silent?

BLUMENTHAL: He certainly thinks of himself as an independent jurist, but the American people have no guarantee of it. Trump's attacks are not just disappointing or disheartening. They are abhorrent and destructive to our constitutional system. He has to condemn them publicly.

INSKEEP: Senator, let me bring in another view here. I know that Democrats in the Senate are gearing up for a big fight over Neil Gorsuch. But there's another Neal who knows him who's talking about him, Neal Katyal, who we've heard on today's program. He was acting solicitor general under President Obama. He's involved in suing over the travel ban, so no fan of President Trump. But he does know and respect Gorsuch. Let's listen.

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NEAL KATYAL: This is a man who brings independence and integrity to the job. And, you know, I understand that some Democrats don't want to confirm anyone after the historic, unprecedented obstruction of Merrick Garland. And my piece was directed at those people in the country who think someone should be confirmed. And if you're in that camp, I think Judge Gorsuch should be at the top of the list.

INSKEEP: Is he right, this is the best nominee you can expect?

BLUMENTHAL: Judge Gorsuch has to prove to the American people that he's truly independent. And the only way to do so is to condemn these attacks as abhorrent and unacceptable. Will he adhere to long-established, well-accepted precedent like Roe v. Wade? Will he put corporation interests above individual rights, which I would reject? And...

INSKEEP: Let me just cut you off there, not cut you off precisely. But I want to ask very briefly one more question - do you believe that Gorsuch deserves an up-or-down vote of the sort that Democrats demanded last year for Merrick Garland?

BLUMENTHAL: He should receive a hearing and a vote.

INSKEEP: A vote but not necessarily an up-or-down vote, meaning you would push for 60 votes.

BLUMENTHAL: He should receive a vote by a 60-vote threshold, which means that if we...

INSKEEP: Could be filibustered.

BLUMENTHAL: ...Find we him out of the mainstream, he should be rejected by every tool that we can muster.

INSKEEP: OK. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, thanks very much.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And President Trump is responding today to Judge Gorsuch's remarks, asking on Twitter if Gorsuch really said those things. All indications we have is that Gorsuch did. In addition to Senator Blumenthal, Gorsuch's own spokesman confirms he made those remarks. And former Senator Kelly, Ayotte who's accompanying Gorsuch on his visits on Capitol Hill, said that while Gorsuch did not denounce any specific remark, that any attack on a judge is disheartening. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.