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.

“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) TesterHow the border deal came together GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration Border talks stall as another shutdown looms 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration 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.   

“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) ManchinDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate MORE (W.Va.), the only Democrat who voted for Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports McCabe: Trump's 'relentless attack' on FBI prompted memoir Trump: 'Disgraced' McCabe, Rosenstein look like they were planning 'very illegal act' 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. 

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 CornynOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Poll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week 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.

Last weekend, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats brush off GOP 'trolling' over Green New Deal Trump should beware the 'clawback' Congress Juan Williams: America needs radical solutions 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 ClintonRoger Stone shares, quickly deletes Instagram photo of federal judge on his case Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report Why the national emergency? A second term may be Trump’s only shield from an indictment MORE to win the popular vote. 

On Thursday, Trump rankled Republican senators by accusing Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech Mark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid 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 HatchOrrin Hatch Foundation seeking million in taxpayer money to fund new center in his honor Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Utah Senate votes to scale back Medicaid expansion | Virginia abortion bill reignites debate | Grassley invites drug execs to testify | Conservative groups push back on e-cig crackdown 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.