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Trump outburst puts Gorsuch in a corner

Republican senators are dismayed with President Trump's public remarks about his own Supreme Court nominee, which they think have complicated his confirmation. 

The nominee, Neil Gorsuch, criticized Trump's public attacks on independent judges during a private meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a move that highlighted his independence, Republicans said, taking away a potential Democratic attack line.  

But Trump twice on Thursday took issue with those statements, saying Blumenthal had misquoted Gorsuch. In doing so, Trump squandered what could have been an effective messaging campaign for the GOP, Capitol Hill Republicans say.

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“When I saw what was reported about Gorsuch criticizing Trump’s comments, I thought, ‘He’s going to get 60 votes,’ ” said a Republican senator. “But then when Trump weighed in today, he stepped all over it, and now I’m not so sure.” 

One centrist Democrat, Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Overnight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides Democrats accuse VA head of misusing resources to stump for Trump, vulnerable GOP senators MORE of Montana, said he was heartened by the initial reports of the nominee’s comments. 

“I appreciate people who call it the way they see it,” he said. “For the judge to say that it does represent an independence I think is healthy.” 

Tester cautioned, however, he would not make a final decision on Gorsuch until he does his “due diligence” and reviews his record.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts The 2016 and 2020 Senate votes are about the same thing: constitutionalist judges Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking MORE (N.Y.) seized on Trump's remarks — and comments from White House press secretary Sean Spicer — to try and rein in centrists who might be thinking about supporting Gorsuch.

Schumer’s spokesman argued that attempts by the White House to recast Gorsuch’s remarks undercut any claims to independence.   

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“Sean Spicer just made it crystal clear that Judge Gorsuch has refused to condemn President Trump’s attacks on the judiciary. That makes an already weak response even weaker, and is further proof that the judge has not demonstrated the kind of independence necessary to be a check on the administration,” said Schumer aide Matt House. 

A Republican aide said Trump mucked things up even more by blasting Blumenthal as a liar during a photo spray with reporters shortly before meeting with a group of centrist Democrats, whose votes he will need to get Gorsuch confirmed. 

When reporters asked Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Harris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears Tom Cotton: 'No doubt' coronavirus won't stop confirmation of SCOTUS nominee MORE (W.Va.), the only Democrat who voted for Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHarris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump's erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House The Memo: Team Trump looks to Pence to steady ship in VP debate MORE, if Trump’s comments about Blumenthal bothered him, Manchin responded, “Oh yeah.”

Trump's remarks, first in a tweet and then on camera, were typical for a president who always fires back at criticism. 

In this case, he attacked Blumenthal, not Gorsuch, who he rolled out as his nominee last week at an event that drew raves from Republicans. 

But the punch at Blumenthal was a bad idea, say Republicans — and an unforced error. 

Now Democrats will have an opportunity at Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing next month to grill him on Trump’s assertion that Blumenthal lied, and to try and force him to respond publicly to the president’s criticism of the judiciary.

It could be difficult for Gorsuch to renounce his comments to Blumenthal after media outlets reported that Ron Bonjean, who is handling the communications effort for the nominee, confirmed that the nominee had called Trump’s tweet about Judge James Robarts disheartening” and “demoralizing”.

Robarts became the target of Trump’s wrath after he ruled last week against his travel ban, a decision the president slammed as “ridiculous.”

A federal appeals court late Thursday refused to lift Robarts’s suspension of the travel ban, rebuking the government in a unanimous decision.

Senate Republicans, who have repeatedly distanced themselves from Trump’s controversial tweets in the past few weeks, say Gorsuch should not to shy away from doing the same. 

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), one of Trump’s strong allies in the GOP conference, said the president doesn’t expect 100 percent agreement from his nominees. 

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He said Gorsuch’s statements pushing back against criticism of the judiciary don’t trouble him.

“I think it’s effective discourse between someone we hope to be one of the justices on the Supreme Court and the president,” he said. 

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynCornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' Changing suburbs threaten GOP hold on Texas Republicans increasingly seek distance from Trump MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Gorsuch shouldn’t be afraid to reiterate whatever he told Blumenthal in the meeting. 

“I don’t know what he said. I know there’s some dispute,” he said. “If somebody was to ask what do you think when people criticize judges for their decisions, that he should be free to answer.

“I think it’s fair game to ask what do you think of public criticisms of the judiciary and judicial decisions,” he added.

Several of Trump’s recent comments and tweets have disconcerted GOP lawmakers, and they think Gorsuch will help his nomination by showing a willingness to criticize those comments, just as some senators have.

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Last weekend, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Schumer labels McConnell's scheduled coronavirus stimulus vote as 'a stunt' Pelosi gives White House 48-hour deadline for coronavirus stimulus deal MORE (R-Ky.) disagreed with Trump’s statements about Russian President Vladimir Putin and also questioned the president’s claim that massive voter fraud enabled Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton Rally crowd chants 'lock him up' as Trump calls Biden family 'a criminal enterprise' Undecided voters in Arizona wary of Trump, crave stability Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw MORE to win the popular vote. 

On Thursday, Trump rankled Republican senators by accusing Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump digs in on conspiracy theory over bin Laden raid At 97, Bob Dole is still fighting for his country Leadership matters: President's words and actions show he is unfit to lead our nation MORE (R-Ariz.) of emboldening the country’s enemies by claiming that a recent raid in Yemen that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL was not a success. 

Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line Bottom line MORE (Utah), who was celebrated Thursday for becoming the longest serving Republican in the chamber’s history, said he was “concerned” about Trump’s rhetoric. 

“I personally wish he would chose his words a little more carefully,” he said.