CAPITOL HILL —
A Republican senator has joined a Democratic colleague in divulging private conversations with Judge Neil Gorsuch in which the Supreme Court nominee lamented President Donald Trump's verbal attacks on a federal judge and the judiciary as a whole.
Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Republican Ben Sasse of Nebraska said he asked Gorsuch earlier this week about Trump's tweets blasting a federal judge who halted his executive order temporarily banning travel from seven majority Muslim nations.
"He [Gorsuch] got a little emotional and he said, 'Any attack or any criticism of his brothers and sisters of the robe is an attack or a criticism of everybody wearing the robe as a judge,'" Sasse recounted. "He said that it's incredibly disheartening to hear things that might undermine the credibility and the independence of the judiciary."
Sasse's account mirrors that of Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who also met privately with Gorsuch, as is customary when a nominee is under Senate consideration. Aides to Gorsuch confirmed the essence of Blumenthal's account.
The president responded on Twitter, accusing Blumenthal of misrepresenting Gorsuch's words and questioning the senator's record of service to the nation.
Sasse said Gorsuch's comments prove he will be an independent voice on the Supreme Court, if confirmed to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last year.
"Frankly, I think that everybody in this body ought to be celebrating the nomination of a guy who's out there affirming three separate branches [of government] and the independence of the judiciary," the Nebraska senator said.
On that point, Democrats said they remain unconvinced.
"To whisper in a closed room behind closed doors to a senator that 'I'm disheartened' and not condemn what the president has done to the judiciary, and not do it publicly?" said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. "What he did does not show independence. It shows an ability to desire the appearance of independence without actually asserting it."
WATCH: Sen. Chuck Schumer Critical of Gorsuch
Democrats have pledged to give Gorsuch fair consideration, but are threatening to invoke a procedure in which a three-fifths vote would be required to confirm him. In that case, eight Democrats would have to join Republicans in backing the nominee.
Many Democrats openly admit they remain angry that the Senate's Republican majority refused to consider former President Barack Obama's nominee for the same Supreme Court seat, Merrick Garland, last year. Some have gone so far as to say Republicans "stole" the seat by holding it vacant until a Republican entered the White House.
"I have news for my Democratic colleagues: Not getting your way does not mean that anyone stole anything; it just means that you did not get your way," said Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. "I think we should stop the nonsense and act like grownups, because we have work to do."
"Some of our friends on the other side [Democrats] are grasping at straws, searching for ways to call his [Gorsuch's] background or qualifications into question — basically using the nomination as a way to continue to contest and deny our new president the mandate he received from his election on November 8," said another Republican, John Cornyn of Texas.
Democrats insist their concerns are well-founded, given the actions of Trump.
"We need judges who are going to be independent of this president," Schumer said. "If this president can attack the judiciary the way he does, if this president has so little respect for rule of law or for separation of powers, our last and best refuge are the courts. So this new nominee to the Supreme Court has to pass a special test, in my opinion, of true independence from the president."