The meeting was an attempt by Trump to smooth the way for Gorsuch’s confirmation, but his attempt may have been colored by his continued criticism of Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
Blumenthal said Wednesday that Gorsuch told him he found Trump’s previous attack on a federal judge “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” Trump responded early Thursday morning saying it was Blumenthal who was wrong about what Gorsuch said.
Trump repeated that claim even as he was seated with five members of the Senate’s Democratic caucus.
“His comments were misrepresented and what you should do is ask Sen. Blumenthal about his Vietnam record that didn’t exist,” Trump said at the beginning of a meeting, referring to the fact that the Connecticut Democrat was forced to apologize in 2010 for saying he served in Vietnam, when he only served during the Vietnam era.
Blumenthal had not been invited to the White House gathering.
Four of the Democratic senators who attended the lunch — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana — are up for re-election in 2018 in states Trump won in 2016.
Manchin and Heitkamp, addressing reporters after the meeting, tried to avoid questions about whether it bothered them that Trump questioned the service record of a Senate colleague.
But when pressed, Manchin offered a simple “oh yeah” when asked if it bothered him.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is up for reelection in 2018, did not attend Thursday’s lunch with Trump, due to a previously scheduled constituent meeting.
Trump and McCaskill are now working to set up a phone call instead, the senator’s spokeswoman said.
Sens. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, and Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, also attended the meeting.
Trump also looked to shore up support for Gorsuch within his own party Thursday by inviting GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Cornyn of Texas, Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who all attended.
Within a half-hour after Blumenthal relayed Gorsuch’s comments about Trump on Wednesday, a White House-tapped aide to the judge confirmed them.
Several other senators, including Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, later relayed similar accounts of Gorsuch forcefully criticizing Trump’s public attacks on the judiciary branch.
And on Thursday morning, Blumenthal said on MSNBC Gorsuch specifically told him he “should feel free to mention what I said about these attacks being disheartening and demoralizing.”
But none of that stopped Trump from firing off a shot against Blumenthal — and at the same time raising questions about the coherence of the White House’s messaging.
“Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had (major lie), now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.