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Top takeaways from Gorsuch’s marathon confirmation hearing

Neil Gorsuch fended off Democratic attacks, ducked specifics on hot-button topics and gently — yet unmistakably — distanced himself from President Donald Trump on Tuesday during his first round of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Most notably, he didn’t seem to harm his prospects of getting confirmed, as he earned gushing praise from Republicans and Democrats didn’t draw much blood beyond Gorsuch’s repeated refusal to answer the stream of questions posed during the marathon, 10-plus hours of grilling.

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Here are POLITICO’s top takeaways from Day Two of Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings:

Gorsuch’s biggest problem: Trump

The Supreme Court nominee spent much of the day on the run — running away from statements and promises Trump and his aides made about judges both during the campaign and since taking the White House.

With Democrats struggling to find traction against Gorsuch over his judicial decisions and the nominee refusing to offer his views on many topics, some senators turned to what appeared to be guarantees that Trump and his team have made about Gorsuch’s views on abortion, shrinking the size of government and a number of other issues.

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Several Democrats noted that Trump publicly and repeatedly vowed that the judges he’d put on the bench would overturn the Supreme Court precedent finding a constitutional right to abortion, Roe v. Wade.

However, Gorsuch insisted he’d made no promises on that issue. In fact, he suggested he’d have stormed out in a huff if asked to do so.

“Senator, I would have walked out the door,” Gorsuch said to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “It’s not what judges do. They don’t do it at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and they shouldn’t do it here.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) pressed Gorsuch about why he was being so evasive, given that officials like White House chief of staff Reince Priebus appeared to have promised conservative activists that Gorsuch would advance Trump’s agenda.

“Mr. Priebus went on to say your nomination was central to President Trump fulfilling his policy objectives,” Franken noted. “’Neil Gorsuch represents the type of judge that has the vision of Donald Trump.’”

Gorsuch said, in essence, that he had no idea what Priebus was talking about.

“Respectfully, Senator, Mr. Priebus doesn’t speak for me, and I don’t speak for him,” the nominee said. “I don’t appreciate it when people characterize me, as I’m sure you don’t appreciate it when people characterize you. I like to speak for myself. I am a judge. I am my own man.”

Asked by POLITICO whether the public should believe Trump’s assurances or Gorsuch’s vows of independence, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said that was easy.

“I think you should believe Judge Gorsuch,” Grassley said, dismissing the talk from Trump and White House officials. “I think that’s all political propaganda that you’d expect out of people that work for a political being in the White House, and the White House is pretty political, isn’t it?” the Iowa Republican said.

Democrats throw punches. Do they leave a mark?

Senate Democrats threw a kitchen sink of attacks against Gorsuch and his record on Tuesday — but it’s unclear whether those blows will ultimately cripple the high court hopeful.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) brought up a former Gorsuch professor who once compared homosexuality to bestiality. Franken called one of Gorsuch’s legal opinions — against a trucker who nearly froze to death — “absurd.” And Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) noted that even Chief Justice John Roberts said the landmark desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided, yet Gorsuch was unwilling to say so.

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Durbin also raised one of the most uncomfortable recent revelations about Gorsuch. A former law student accused the Supreme Court nominee of making insensitive remarks about women and maternity leave in one of Gorsuch’s courses at the University of Colorado law school. Gorsuch denied the charge and said he was actually raising another matter through his teaching method, and the issue wasn’t brought up again.

The sprawling litany of attacks made it harder for one single negative narrative against Gorsuch to stick. But one may resonate more than others: Gorsuch was repeatedly unwilling to answer directly on multiple hot-button issues.

Yes, Gorsuch can’t say specifically how he would rule on a certain case, Democrats acknowledge — but he can certainly do better than the answers he was giving before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

“I think he’s made a very poor impression on most, many of our members in his refusal to answer questions,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters. “There’s absolutely no legal basis, other than hiding.”

Gorsuch highlights his ‘gentler’ side

With Democrats trying to paint Gorsuch as heartless toward workers, the nominee seemed to go out of his way on several occasions to stress his compassion, even — or maybe especially — when that presented an opportunity to draw a contrast with Trump and his hard-line approach.

When Gorsuch came under fire Tuesday for advice he gave as a Justice Department lawyer working on the George W. Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policies, the nominee initially deployed the I-was-just-a-lawyer approach, insisting he was just trying to help the federal government think through thorny legal issues.

Gorsuch could’ve stood pat on that answer, but instead offered up another assurance: In the debate over a signing statement Bush issued that seemed to narrow an anti-torture amendment, he was at odds with the hawks in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.

“There were individuals, in maybe the vice president’s office, who wanted a more aggressive signing statement along the lines you’ve described, and … there were others, including the State Department, who wanted a gentler signing statement, and my best recollection is I was in the latter camp,” Gorsuch said.

Gorsuch also seemed to subtly hint at a modest stylistic departure from Trump’s tough stance on illegal immigration. Repeatedly during Tuesday’s session, the nominee referred to his ruling in a case involving “an undocumented immigrant” — a phrase Trump and his aides eschew in favor of “illegal immigrant” or the even-more-aggressive “illegal alien.”

In another instance late in the hearing, Gorsuch slipped up on the politically correct nomenclature and quickly returned to it, even apologizing for the mistake. “When an undocumented immigrant — alien — sorry,” he said, before highlighting how he’d reported a poor-performing immigration attorney to the bar.

Gorsuch: Gay marriage is ‘settled law’ but what about abortion?

No matter how hard Democrats tried, Gorsuch refused to be pinned down on specific policies spanning from abortion to campaign finance to gun regulations.

But on at least one hot-button matter, the Supreme Court nominee said the issue was all but settled: same-sex marriage, which was legalized after the high court’s landmark decision in Obergefell s. Hodges in 2015.

“It is absolutely settled law,” Gorsuch said under questioning from Franken. He added that he would not weigh in with his personal views toward gay marriage, noting that his comments could inaccurately signal that he would not rule fairly in other cases and added: “There is ongoing litigation about its impact and its application right now.”

Later, pressed by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Gorsuch again said of gay marriage: “That’s a right that the Supreme Court has recognized.”

Gorsuch wasn’t so definitive when it came to the issue of abortion, which arose frequently Tuesday. In that sense, Gorsuch somewhat echoed the position of Trump himself.

Shortly after his surprise victory last November, Trump said in a “60 Minutes” interview that he viewed gay marriage as “settled” law, but he was much less definitive on the future of Roe v. Wade.

“You have these cases that have already gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled, and I’m fine with that,” Trump said when asked during the interview about gay marriage. But on abortion, Trump was singing a different tune: Trump said he would nominate “pro-life” justices and “having to do with abortion, if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the states.”

Gorsuch called Roe “a precedent of the United States Supreme Court.” But when asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) whether he viewed the decision as a “super precedent,” Gorsuch responded: “It has been reaffirmed many times, I can say that.”

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Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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