By IAN HICKS
with Assoicated Press dispatches
The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — As President Donald Trump courts the Democratic votes he needs to prevent a filibuster of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, Sen. Joe Manchin isn’t ready to say whether he’ll back the appellate judge from Colorado.
“Today my colleagues and I had a very productive meeting with President Trump. We discussed his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Gorsuch, ways we can improve and invest in our infrastructure and fighting the opioid abuse epidemic,” Manchin said in a press release. “I will continue to review Judge Gorsuch’s record, qualifications and his future testimony to determine if I will support him. I look forward to working with President Trump and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to work through this confirmation process and the other issues we discussed today.”
Manchin met with Gorsuch last week, according to spokeswoman Katey McCutcheon. While his office has not commented on specifics about that meeting, his previous comments make it seem unlikely he’d join with fellow Democrats to block a vote on Trump’s replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died almost a year ago.
“The Senate should hold committee hearings. Senators should meet with him, we should debate his qualifications on the Senate floor and cast whatever vote we believe he deserves,” Manchin said Jan 31.
Manchin has shown a willingness to break party lines when it comes to Trump’s appointees. Although he voted with the majority of his Democratic colleagues against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, on Wednesday he was the only Democrat who voted to confirm Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
West Virginia’s other senator, Shelley Moore Capito, also attended Thursday’s White House lunch. She has already said she’ll vote to confirm Gorsuch for the high court.
“I raised the issue of the digital divide that exists in rural America and encouraged the president to include broadband in any infrastructure package,” Capito said in a press release. “We also discussed solutions for curbing the opioid epidemic and solving problems at the (Department of Veterans Affairs), as well as the need to swiftly confirm Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.”
During the lunch, Trump took the opportunity of a shouted question from a reporter to lash out at Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., dredging up a years-old controversy in which the former Marine Corps reservist apologized for falsely saying he had served in Vietnam.
“What you should do is ask Sen. Blumenthal about his Vietnam record that didn’t exist after years of saying it did. Ask Sen. Blumenthal about his Vietnam record,” Trump said. “He misrepresented that just like he misrepresented Judge Gorsuch.”
Blumenthal, D-Conn., defended himself in a series of interviews on Thursday, insisting that he had correctly characterized Gorsuch’s reaction to Trump’s attacks against a “so-called judge,” as the president described the Seattle judge who put a stay on his refugee travel ban.
Even as drama unfolded at the White House, Gorsuch continued to traverse the corridors of the Senate office buildings across from the Capitol, paying courtesy calls to senators while ignoring reporters’ questions. GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was full of praise after meeting with Gorsuch, adding that while she hadn’t asked him to reiterate his concerns about Trump’s attacks on the judiciary, “I am confident that Judge Gorsuch could be, will be, an independent judge.”
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