WASHINGTON (AP) — For once, President Donald Trump is following the playbook.
Trump, whose campaign was marked by the routine defiance of convention, is adhering to the traditional roadmap for selling his Supreme Court nominee to the public and Congress. His team is consulting lawmakers, working with influential outside groups and has made the calculated choice to present Democrats a tough choice: Oppose the pick of federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch or hold their fire for a possible future nomination.
But Trump signaled Wednesday, the day after nominating Gorsuch to the court, that this normalcy would not keep him from pushing for extraordinary measures. He urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to change Senate rules, if necessary, to overcome a Democratic blockade.
"If we end up with that gridlock I would say, 'If you can, Mitch, go nuclear,'" Trump said. "Because that would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was caught up in the web. So I would say, it's up to Mitch, but I would say, 'Go for it.'"
For now, Trump's campaign to push for Gorsuch's approval looks familiar.
The White House is working closely with conservative groups and evangelicals, many of whom overcame their early hesitancy to back Trump, a twice-divorced, former pro-choice Democrat, in exchange for the promise of securing a conservative justice on the Supreme Court. Trump himself appeared aware of that dynamic, declaring in July in Iowa "If you really like Donald Trump, that's great, but if you don't, you have to vote for me anyway. You know why? Supreme Court judges, Supreme Court judges."
The Federal Society, a conservative legal group, and the Heritage Foundation helped supply and vet Trump's original list of candidates and the Judicial Crisis Network, a group that has advocated for the picks of Republican presidents, has said it will spend $10 million to ensure Trump's pick is confirmed.
At the White House on Wednesday, Trump gathered representatives of several other powerful outside forces — including Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, David O'Steen of National Right to Life and Leonard Leo of The Federalist Society.
The president also planned a strategy session later in the day. The White House did not disclose the participants.
The Trump team, which is not known for its veracity, launched a site aimed at introducing the little-known jurist from Colorado to the American public with the Twitter handle @GorsuchFacts and filled reporters' email inboxes with approving statements from conservative politicians and business leaders.
Part of Trump's strategy was revealed in his choice of a nominee who is known as a solid conservative, but not an ideological activist.
The president has repeatedly said he expects to make multiple appointments to the Supreme Court — due to the advanced age of a few justices — potentially reshaping it for a generation.
Gorsuch once clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote who often holds the balance of power in the court. And while Gorsuch is more conservative than Kennedy, the two men are friends and some viewed the selection as a reassuring signal to that 80-year-old justice that he could retire knowing the court was in good hands.
Democrats were confronted with whether they could fight Gorsuch while also battling some of Trump's Cabinet picks, as well as his executive order blocking suspending the U.S. refugee program.
Some argued that every Trump decision should be opposed, while others saving their resources and leverage for Trump's next, and potentially more radical, selection.
Republicans, meanwhile, quickly rallied around the choice that won them some party unity — a rare thing in Trump's Washington.
As Vice President Mike Pence escorted Gorsuch to Capitol Hill for visits with lawmakers, key Republicans declared they were pleased with the rollout.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, who strongly denounced the refugee and immigration order, invoked Trump's old reality TV show by saying: "I thought it was well done. I thought I was watching 'The Apprentice.'"
And North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis appeared to offer a backhanded compliment by praising the White House's decision to finally follow the beaten path.
"The administration, they're very new but I think this is the best (option)," Tillis said. "It's a model that should be used for any number of things."
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed reporting.
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