WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominees don’t often bite the hand that picks them and President Donald Trump is having trouble accepting the fact that his hand was bitten.
Trump on Thursday disputed what at least three senators and a Republican operative have said — that Judge Neil Gorsuch voiced complaints about the president’s recent attacks on the judiciary during the nominee’s round of meetings on Capitol Hill.
Trump’s missive came in a reality-bending tweetstorm about a variety of topics. Here’s a selection:
TRUMP: “Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had (major lie), now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?” In a lunch with senators later, Trump said of Gorsuch: “His comments were misrepresented.”
THE FACTS: Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut who falsely claimed in years past that he had served in Vietnam, offered an account of his meeting with Gorsuch that was corroborated by Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist serving as communications director for the team that is working to get Gorsuch confirmed by the Senate.
The senator said Gorsuch told him it was “disheartening” and “demoralizing” to see Trump disparage the judge who temporarily blocked the president’s restrictions on visitors from seven mainly Muslim countries and on refugees. Trump has called U.S. District Judge James Robart a “so-called judge” and accused the judiciary of being political. Robart’s decision was upheld Thursday in a unanimous decision by an appeals court panel that includes a Republican appointee.
A Republican senator said Gorsuch also objected to Trump’s comments about Robart during their meeting.
“He got pretty passionate about him, about it,” Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska told MSNBC on Thursday. “I asked him about the ‘so-called judges’ comment, because we don’t have so-called judges or so-called presidents or so-called senators, and this was a guy who kind of welled up with some energy and he said any attack on any of — I think his term to me was, brothers or sisters of the robe — is an attack on all judges, and he believes in an independent judiciary.”
The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, also said Gorsuch told him he was “disheartened” by Trump’s insult.
Former GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is helping to usher Gorsuch through the Senate, said in a statement released by the White House that the nominee “made clear that he was not referring to any specific case,” but “finds any criticism of a judge’s integrity and independence disheartening and demoralizing.” Even if Gorsuch did not name Trump in some of his exchanges with senators, however, it’s clear that judicial integrity only came up because Trump had attacked it.
Blumenthal told AP that Ayotte and White House staff members were in the room during his conversation with Gorsuch, that “there’s no question that he said that President Trump’s attacks on the judiciary are demoralizing and disheartening” and that the nominee added: “You can repeat that. You can quote me.”
TRUMP: “It is a disgrace that my full Cabinet is still not in place, the longest such delay in the history of our country. Obstruction by Democrats!”
THE FACTS: That’s a premature judgment; it’s only February and several other recent presidents did not have their full Cabinets seated this soon. Barack Obama did not have all his Cabinet vacancies filled until late April 2009, for example, or Bill Clinton until mid-March 1993.
Looking at the far broader range of people throughout government who must be confirmed by the Senate, it’s true that the process has lagged this time. Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week became the eighth member of Trump’s administration to be confirmed; at this point eight years ago Obama had 23 officials confirmed, including department heads and deputies.
Democratic resistance is partly responsible. So is the fact that Trump has been slower than his predecessor in submitting vetting information and paperwork for his nominees, even though he was unusually fast in putting the names of his Cabinet picks into play.
As for his accusation of Democratic obstructionism, the opposition party can cause some procedural delays, and has done so. But obstructionism isn’t what it used to be. Unlike Obama, Trump only needs a simple majority to confirm his executive-office nominees, thanks to a change in rules instituted by Democrats when they controlled the Senate in 2013. And Trump has a Republican-controlled Senate to push his nominees through.
TRUMP: “Chris Cuomo, in his interview with Sen. Blumenthal, never asked him about his long-term lie about his brave ‘service’ in Vietnam. FAKE NEWS!”
THE FACTS: Not so. Cuomo, a CNN host, brought up that issue upfront with Blumenthal on Thursday. Cuomo asked him about Trump’s belief that the senator has no credibility “because you misrepresented your military record in the past.” Blumenthal did not answer the question, but went on to talk about his meeting with Judge Gorsuch.
During Blumenthal’s Senate campaign in 2010, The New York Times reported on multiple occasions when he falsely claimed he had served in Vietnam during the war. He joined the Marine Reserve but never served in Vietnam. Blumenthal told AP on Thursday: “I’ve been in public life for quite a while. Anyone who is interested can go back over it.”