The Washington Post is reporting that President Trump began to second-guess his choice of Neil Gorsuch for a vacant Supreme Court seat shortly after the president announced the pick in late January, when Gorsuch criticized remarks the president had made about federal judges:
The incident that so angered Trump came shortly after a federal judge had issued a nationwide stop to the president’s travel ban targeting a list of majority-Muslim countries. At the time, the president disparaged the “so-called judge” on Twitter, writing that the ruling “put our country in such peril.”
... Trump had additionally said that a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that held oral arguments to review the judge’s order was “disgraceful” and that the judges cared more about politics than following the law.
Gorsuch had a private meeting with Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal on February 8. Afterward, Blumenthal said that Gorsuch had called Trump's attacks on the judiciary "disheartening" and "demoralizing." The Post story says that Trump began to doubt Gorsuch's loyalty, and had to be talked down by Mitch McConnell.
A month later, according to the Post, Trump was still peeved:
Trump was especially upset by what he viewed as Gorsuch’s insufficient gratitude for a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court, White House officials said.
But everything worked out for the forces of conservatism:
The judge sent the president a handwritten letter dated March 2, thanking him for the nomination and explaining how grateful he was, according to a copy obtained by The Post.
Your address to Congress was magnificent,” Gorsuch wrote. “And you were so kind to recognize Mrs. Scalia, remember the justice, and mention me. My teenage daughters were cheering the TV!”
The reference to “the justice” was to Antonin Scalia, the late justice whom Gorsuch replaced, and “Mrs. Scalia” is his widow, Maureen....
The team you have assembled to assist me in the Senate is remarkable and inspiring,” he wrote. “I see daily their love of country and our Constitution, and know it is a tribute to you and your leadership for policy is always about personnel.”
However, disaster was narrowly averted:
Aides said Trump did not immediately receive the note, but it was retrieved by legislative affairs director Marc Short and then viewed by Trump on March 10, helping ease his concerns.
I have doubts about this story.
Trump's address to a joint session of Congress was on February 28. We're told that Gorsuch's letter was dated two days later -- March 2 -- but it didn't arrive until more than a week after that.
I don't believe that. I believe that White House aides and other Gorsuch advocates in D.C. thought they were successfully preventing Trump from sabotaging the appointment until the president blew up again -- I assume it was March 9 or 10 -- and they knew they had to do something drastic.
At the time, the high point of Trump's presidency was still that joint address to Congress, even though it had taken place more than a week earlier. (Non-Republicans as well as Republicans had praised Trump for the speech -- you remember Van Jones saying, "He became President of the United States in that moment, period.")
So I think Trump aides asked Gorsuch to write a letter praising the president, because they knew that flattery is what he craves more than anything else. It was decided that Gorsuch should praise the well-received speech. The letter was back-dated so it wouldn't seem as if it had been written just after the speech, not in response to Trump's most recent tantrum on the subject of gratitude.
I assume that Gorsuch wrote the note himself, with a little coaching. I say that because while the note includes the requisite flattery -- "Your address to Congress was magnificent" -- if it had been dictated by Trump insiders it probably would have said that the speech was the best address to Congress in the history of the presidency, and the best oration ever delivered by a president. The same with "The team you have assembled to assist me in the Senate is remarkable and inspiring." "Remarkable and inspiring"? If Trump aides had controlled the wording, the team would have been described as "the best"! "The best ever"!
But apparently it was enough. Trump never rescinded the nomination. Gorsuch got his lifetime appointment, with only a moderate amount of groveling.
Cross-posted at No More Mr. Nice Blog