WASHINGTON ― Facing a tough round of questions from Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on Tuesday declined to openly condemn President Donald Trump’s verbal attacks on federal judges who rule unfavorably against him.
“I don’t know what was in his mind,” Gorsuch said of the president, who lashed out on Twitter against a Seattle judge who blocked his first travel ban, and during the campaign a California judge of Mexican ancestry overseeing litigation over Trump University. “You’d have to ask him.”
Gorsuch has been under pressure from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering his nomination to the Supreme Court, to assert his independence from Trump. But on the topic of judges, he simply said they “have to be tough” because they “get called lots of things.”
He refused to take the next step and say Trump was wrong to call U.S. District Judge James Robart, who temporarily put the brakes on Trump’s first executive order restricting immigration, a “so-called judge” who will put the nation at risk for blocking the travel ban.
Gorsuch repeated comments he first made in private to Blumenthal last month, when he said that berating the judicial system was “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” But he didn’t attribute the sentiment to Trump’s outbursts specifically.
Anyone who impugns the motives or integrity of federal judges, Gorsuch said, is something to find discouraging.
“Anyone is anyone,” the judge added.
Later, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) again brought up Trump’s swipes against the courts, and once again Gorsuch refused to name names.
“I cannot talk about specific cases and I can’t get involved in politics, so I have to be careful,” Gorsuch said.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who appeared to be watching a live feed of the confirmation hearing, rebutted an Associated Press news alert on Twitter noting that Gorsuch publicly called Trump out.
“Wrong and Misleading,” Spicer tweeted back, “he spoke broadly and never mentioned any person.”
But Gorsuch did give a little hint Trump’s remarks may have rankled him.
“I don’t think I was merely speaking broadly, Senator,” he said when Hirono pressed him on the issue.