Gorsuch calls Trump tweets about judges 'demoralizing' and 'disheartening'
Updated at 3:20 p.m. ET
President Trump started the day by blasting a Democratic senator who revealed criticism of Trump from his nominee to the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Judge Neil Gorsuch told Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal that he found President Trump's recent attacks on judges to be "demoralizing" and "disheartening." Gorsuch made the comments during a private meeting, and a member of the Supreme Court nomination team escorting Gorsuch through the get-acquainted meetings also confirmed the remarks to NPR's Tamara Keith.
Even though Gorsuch's team confirmed the comments, Trump says they were "mischaracterized." He also attacked Blumenthal for exaggerating his military service. While running for Senate in 2010, he was discovered to have falsely said that he had served in Vietnam.
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Blumenthal described his meeting with Gorsuch on Wednesday by telling reporters, "He certainly expressed to me that he is disheartened by the demoralizing and abhorrent comments made by President Trump about the judiciary."
Gorsuch has been meeting with senators in preparation for confirmation hearings.
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska revealed even stronger comments by Gorsuch when they met. "He got pretty passionate," Sasse told MSNBC on Thursday. "He said, 'Any attack on any of' — I think his word to me was — 'brothers or sisters of the robe is an attack on all judges.'"
Trump's attacks on the judiciary are highly unusual for a sitting president. Gorsuch has been a member of that branch of government as a federal judge since 2006. Senators will be considering whether he will remain independent should he be on the Supreme Court.
Trump began his latest attack last Friday with tweets disparaging federal Judge James L. Robart, who temporarily blocked the president's ban on immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries. Trump first called Robart a "so-called judge," called his ruling "a terrible decision," and then suggested Robart would be responsible if a terrorist attack should occur.
At the Thursday afternoon press briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer doubled down on the assertion that Gorsuch wasn't specifically talking about Trump's tweet about the "so-called" Judge Robart, pointing to a statement from former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who is helping Gorsuch.
"The judge was very clear that he was not commenting on a specific matter," Spicer asserted, though it's unclear why the Supreme Court nominee would bring up criticism of judges unless to talk about the president's recent statements that did just that. And the statements also contradict Sasse's account of their talk.
On Tuesday, three judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments about whether to lift Robart's temporary block on the president's executive order.
Wednesday morning, Trump switched his attack to them, or at least one of them whom he did not name. The president told a gathering of chiefs of police and sheriffs that he doesn't understand how any judge could rule against him.
"And I don't ever want to call a court biased, so I won't call it biased. And we haven't had a decision yet. But courts seem to be so political and it would be great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what's right," Trump said.
The statement Trump referred to is the federal law granting a president authority to restrict who enters the United States.
Trump's attack on Blumenthal refers back to a controversy during the senator's 2010 campaign.
The New York Times uncovered at the time that Blumenthal said at a 2008 event honoring veterans and service members, "We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam." Except Blumenthal had received several deferments from going to Vietnam, and served in the Marine reserves, though not overseas. Blumenthal later apologized and said he meant to say, "I served during Vietnam."
Blumenthal responded to Trump's tweet in an interview on CNN, and Trump was apparently watching. The president sent out another tweet falsely claiming CNN didn't ask Blumenthal about the controversy over his military record.
Jessica Taylor contributed. Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.