Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) met privately with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch for about 45 minutes on Tuesday.
In Schumer’s retelling, it did not go well.
The Senate’s top Democrat recounted his meeting with Gorsuch in great detail during his weekly news conference with reporters Tuesday, framing the fight over confirming Gorsuch as a broader battle over whether the judiciary could serve as a check on executive power.
Schumer, it seems, is skeptical whether Gorsuch will do so as a Supreme Court justice.
“Simply put: the bar for a Supreme Court nominee to prove they can be independent has never, ever, been higher,” Schumer said. “I spent a great deal of time in our meeting asking Judge Gorsuch straightforward and direct questions that would demonstrate whether he could clear that bar.”
But Gorsuch “avoided answers like the plague,” Schumer added.
In their meeting, Schumer said he peppered Gorsuch with questions: Is a ban on Muslims, in concept, constitutional? What does he think of the recent op-ed from John Yoo, a former Justice Department official under George W. Bush who wrote in the New York Times that even he has “grave concerns” about President Donald Trump’s use of executive power? Do Trump’s false allegations that millions voted in the presidential election illegally undermine democracy? What does he think about the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause?
“When someone doesn’t answer the most obvious of questions, and questions that demand answers, you wonder. You really wonder,” Schumer said. “And that’s why I have such severe doubts about him.”
Many Democrats, including Schumer, have taken a hard line against Gorsuch, arguing that he needs to meet a 60-vote threshold to get confirmed to the Supreme Court and signaling that they have concerns about the judge’s legal philosophy and rulings from the bench. But Republicans are nonetheless confident he’ll get confirmed.
Schumer dismissed the prospects of Republicans using the “nuclear option” to change Senate rules on Supreme Court nominees so they can clear a filibuster with a simple majority. Schumer called it a “false choice.”
“The answer is not to change the rules,” Schumer said. “It is to change the nominee.”
Gorsuch has a full slate of meetings with senators this week, including several key Democrats: Moderate Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri are hosting sit-downs with the Tenth Circuit judge on Wednesday. Gorsuch met with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, earlier this week.
“Judge Gorsuch is a supremely qualified and thoughtful nominee,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who met with Gorsuch on Tuesday. “The Chicken Little hysteria from some of my friends on the other side of the aisle is just sad and absurd. If they keep working to paint Judge Gorsuch as a mouth-breathing bald eagle hunter, they’ll embarrass themselves.”