- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 1, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte didn’t vote for President Donald Trump and won’t get to vote for his Supreme Court nominee after losing her U.S. Senate seat in November. But Ayotte will help Neil Gorsuch navigate the confirmation process.

Ayotte has been tapped by the Trump administration to introduce the federal appeals court judge from Denver to senators and escort him to meetings and the confirmation hearing.

Trump nominated Gorsuch on Tuesday to replace Antonin Scalia, who died last year. The vacancy has gone unfilled since the GOP Senate leadership refused to hold hearings on the Obama nominee.

The role for Ayotte is a prominent one for someone with a decidedly rocky relationship with the new president.

For months last year, Ayotte supported Trump without endorsing him. She called him a role model for children during one debate but took it back the next day. And when old recordings of Trump bragging about forcing himself on women surfaced in October, she rescinded her support altogether and said she’d write in Vice President Mike Pence for president instead.

In late November, Trump told The New York Times “No, thank you,” when asked about Ayotte working in his administration. That apparently has changed.

“The president’s not holding some kind of test about what degree of support you had for him. He wants the best and brightest to continue to serve this country in whatever capacity they can,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Wednesday.

“I think Senator Ayotte very helpfully offered up her services. She’s got a lot of relationships on both sides of the aisle; she’s got a tremendous amount of experience in this field, and I think the president thought she was extremely qualified to do this,” he said.

Ayotte began her new duties Wednesday, accompanying Gorsuch and Pence to a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She did not respond to a request for comment but in a tweet said she was “honored to work with Judge Gorsuch during the confirmation process” and called him an “excellent choice.”

Last spring, Ayotte was among Republican senators who opposed holding confirmation hearings and a vote on former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. At the time, she said voters should get a chance to weigh in via their votes in November.

Ayotte lost to Democrat Maggie Hassan by about 1,000 votes in one of the nation’s most closely-watched contests. Since leaving office, she was named a visiting fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics at Harvard University.

Both Hassan and fellow Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said they will thoroughly review Gorsuch’s record. Shaheen said she will not support any candidate “who intends to turn back the clock on civil rights, including women’s reproductive rights and LGBT equality.”

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