BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. — President Donald Trump was closing in on his choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy Saturday, making final deliberations from the privacy of his New Jersey golf club.
Clearly relishing the mounting suspense, Trump tweeted early in the morning: “Big decision will soon be made on our next Justice of the Supreme Court!”
The president, who is planning a Monday night announcement from the East Room in the White House, has told reporters that he was focused on four people and “of the four people I have it down to three or two.” He had dinner Friday night with Vice President Mike Pence, who has also been meeting with some of the finalists.
The president’s top contenders include federal appeals court judges Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge, with judges Thomas Hardiman and Amy Coney Barrett also considered in the mix. As part of the rollout process, the White House has been preparing information packages on all four, said two people familiar with the process who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Starting from a list of 25 names vetted by conservative groups, Trump has also given serious consideration to federal appeals court judges Amul Thapar and Joan Larsen.
The president enjoyed the suspenseful process leading up to his announcement last year that he was nominating Neil Gorsuch for the high court and is hoping to keep the guessing game going until he announces his pick Monday in prime time.
The president and White House officials involved in the process have fielded calls and messages and have been on the receiving end of public pleas and op-eds for or against specific candidates ever since Kennedy announced on June 27 that he would retire this summer.
As Trump’s list tightened, there was some internal concern that the president’s options could be narrowed by the public outcry — particularly what had appeared to be mounting conservative reservations about Kavanaugh. But in recent days the White House has seen the pressure ebb, as Kavanaugh’s defenders — most recently Alberto Gonzales, who served as attorney general under President George W. Bush — have provided balance.
Now, advisers believe, all of Trump’s finalists can earn the support of the president’s party, and ultimately confirmation. All he has to do is make up his mind.
“I am interviewing some extraordinarily talented and brilliant people and I’m very, very happy with them and we will pick somebody who will be outstanding, hopefully for many years to come,” Trump said Thursday.
Pence met in person with Kethledge and Barrett while he was vacationing in Indiana earlier this week and met with Kavanaugh at the Naval Observatory on Wednesday, said a person familiar with the process who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Pence has also spoken to Republican senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, about the process.
As Trump closes in on his second court pick in two years — a nominee who could tip the balance toward conservatives and revisit landmark rulings on abortion access, gay marriage and other issues — momentum is also growing among GOP supporters and detractors of the top contenders.
Aware that judicial picks are key voting issues, Trump has stressed that he wants a justice who will be a strict constitutionalist. Viewed warily by his party’s conservative base, Trump has been keen to note that all of his picks have been vetted by conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society.
Conservatives and some libertarian-leaning Republicans, including Paul, have raised concerns about Kavanaugh, warning he could disappoint Republicans if his past decisions are a guide. Paul and Cruz are supporting fellow Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who is not said to be under serious consideration by the White House but is the only lawmaker Trump has considered for the position.
With the Senate narrowly divided, 51-49, in favor of Republicans, Trump’s announcement will set off a contentious confirmation process as Republicans seek to shift the court to the right and Democrats strive to block that effort. And with the ailing Arizona Sen. John McCain away from Washington, any GOP defections could begin to imperil a nominee.AlertMe