Throughout Donald Trump’s first year in office, we’ve heard from various White House officials with unsettling insights. In April, for example, one presidential adviser said his job was to “talk him out of doing crazy things.” In August, another added, “You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill.”
Such as? Well, the Washington Post reported that Trump talked about rescinding Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination after the far-right jurist criticized the president’s attacks on the federal judiciary.
Trump, according to several people with knowledge of the discussions, was upset that Gorsuch had pointedly distanced himself from the president in a private February meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), telling the senator he found Trump’s repeated attacks on the federal judiciary “disheartening” and “demoralizing.”
The president worried that Gorsuch would not be “loyal,” one of the people said, and told aides that he was tempted to pull Gorsuch’s nomination – and that he knew plenty of other judges who would want the job.
The article, which relied on 11 sources, described Trump’s reaction as an “explosion.”
Regular readers may recall that Gorsuch sat down with Blumenthal as part of the confirmation process, which came against a backdrop in which the new Republican president was railing constantly against the U.S. judiciary. The Connecticut Democrat said at the time that Gorsuch “expressed to me that he is disheartened by the demoralizing and abhorrent comments made by President Trump about the judiciary.”
Trump pushed back, saying Blumenthal “misrepresented” the judge’s comments, which left the president looking even worse when Gorsuch confirmed the senator’s version of events.
And so, Trump threw a tantrum, expecting “loyalty” from a nominated U.S. Supreme Court justice. It’s the latest in a series of examples of the president’s authoritarian instincts, and overly delicate sensibilities, failing to serve him well.
But there was something else in the Post’s article that warrants some attention.
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 Washington 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 note reportedly went on to say, “The team you have assembled to assist me in the Senate is remarkable and inspiring. 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…. Congratulations again on such a great start.”
According to the Post’s reporting, after Trump’s tantrum, aides retrieved this note in order to “ease his concerns,” effectively using the nominee’s message as a pacifier.
And while that may have helped in the moment, Gorsuch’s note is itself worthy of attention. Was the conservative jurist so effusive in his praise because he recognized the president’s deep insecurities and feared Trump’s volatility, or did Gorsuch gush in his note as a way of pledging a political commitment?