Daines Touts Supreme Court Nominee Amid Protesters

Daines visited the Montana Capitol on Wednesday to tout Judge Neil Gorsuch's qualifications

By BOBBY CAINA CALVAN, Associated Press

HELENA – U.S. Sen. Steve Daines arrived Wednesday at the Montana state Capitol to meet with state legislators and tout the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court but found himself surrounded by a swarm of demonstrators demanding the senator convene a town hall.

The event came a day after Daines rescheduled an appearance before state legislators in the House chambers when hundreds of protesters converged at the statehouse to voice displeasure over his support of President Donald Trump’s agenda.

Wednesday’s crowd numbered in the dozens — not the scores that showed up Tuesday.

Flanked Wednesday by legislative Republicans, Daines sought to promote Gorsuch’s judicial record, saying the federal jurist was eminently qualified for the country’s highest bench.

“Judge Gorsuch is a mainstream judge,” Daines said. “His academic credentials are impeccable … Let’s get Gorsuch approved as quickly as possible.”

He later made the same appeal before legislators assembled in the House chamber. He also spoke about opening up markets abroad for Montana products such as beef. And he said Montana’s public lands were not for sale.

To win confirmation from the U.S. Senate, Gorsuch needs at least 60 votes under usual Senate rules. That means Republicans need to persuade some Democrats to support the nomination.

Daines joined other Montana Republicans at the news conference organized by a conservative group called Judicial Crisis Network, which has run television ads in Montana and elsewhere to put pressure on Democratic senators, including Sen. Jon Tester, to support Gorsuch.

Tester met with Gorsuch soon after Trump picked him to fill the vacancy on the high court, which has been unfilled since the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia a year ago.

Tester’s spokeswoman, Marnee Banks, said the senior senator from Montana would give “Gorsuch a fair shake.” But Tester has expressed concern about how Gorsuch might rule on cases involving abortion, campaign financing and the environment.

Daines said he had not sought Tester’s support directly but would seek to have a conversation with his fellow Montana senator.

Daines’ appearance before the Montana Legislature would normally be a routine affair, but such returns home for lawmakers have become challenging for some members of Congress who have found themselves besieged by constituents upset about Trump’s agenda to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, tighten immigration rules and his top-level appointments.

About two dozen demonstrators — and a few Daines supporters — packed into a corridor at the state Capitol.

Marla Swanby and Annika Robins, both of Helena, hoisted a placard above their heads borrowing a line from an Adele song: “Hello from the other side. I must have called 1,000X.”

Both said they were upset Daines was a no-show on Tuesday and didn’t hear from the throngs assembled at the statehouse.

“It’s not fair to do that to your constituents,” Swanby said.

“To avoid your constituents,” Robins interrupted.

Daines said he supported the rights of demonstrators to First Amendment right to assemble and to have every Montanan’s voice heard. He said he would soon host another call-in teleconference with constituents, which did not satisfy his critics.

Meeting with reporters later Wednesday, Daines noted that protesters had a clear agenda. “They oppose Keystone, they oppose coal …. they support Obamacare,” Daines said. “It’s pretty clear what their views are.”