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Sen. Al Franken brands Gorsuch a partisan and 'absurd'

 (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

As Supreme Court nominee Neil M. Gorsuch asserts that he is beholden to no ideology or partisan agenda, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are working hard to make the case that is not true.

Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota argued it most effectively on Tuesday afternoon.

He relentlessly sparred with Gorsuch about the nominee’s dissent in the case of a trucking company employee who was fired after abandoning his cargo when no one came to help him during a breakdown, and he was stuck for hours in subzero temperatures. Gorsuch came down on the side of the company.

“I had a career in identifying absurdity, and I know it when I see it,” said Franken, a former "Saturday Night Live" performer and writer.  “And it makes me question your judgment.”

He grilled Gorsuch on what the nominee would do if stuck in the same predicament as the trucking employee, who Franken said was beginning to experience symptoms of hypothermia.

“I don’t know what I would have done if I were in his shoes,” said Gorsuch, who had earlier told the panel that he felt constrained by the existing law at the time of the case to decide for the company, regardless of whether he empathized for the employee’s predicament. “I don’t blame him at all for doing what he did do. I thought a lot about this case. I totally empathize.”

Franken shot back. “I would have done exactly what he did,” Franken said. “And I think everyone here would have done exactly what he did. And I think it is an easy answer.”

The senator also grew impatient as Gorsuch recycled responses from earlier in the day that he is completely apolitical as a judge and has no place weighing in on political issues. He repeatedly cut the nominee off while building his case that Gorsuch had strong political opinions and ties to partisans, reading from exchanges with high-level Republicans during the administration of George W. Bush that suggested he was a fiercely loyal Republican foot soldier.

Then Franken turned to the Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual gathering of conservatives in Washington, where Franken said White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and senior advisor Stephen K. Bannon pointed to the Gorsuch nomination as a central part of their plan to “deconstruct the administrative state” and roll back 40 years of regulatory law.

“Are you comfortable with your nomination being described in such transactional terms?” Franken asked Gorsuch.

“There is a lot about this process that makes me uncomfortable,” Gorsuch said.

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