President Donald Trump has spoken to four potential replacements for retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, according to people familiar with the matter.
The four, all federal appeals court judges, are Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, Amul Thapar and Raymond Kethledge, said the people, who were granted anonymity to discuss the interview process. They were the first candidates interviewed for the nomination, which the president said he’ll announce July 9.
Kethledge has impressed those within the White House, the people close to the process said. He was considered for the last Supreme Court vacancy, but didn’t meet with Trump then. On Monday, Trump expressed strongly favorable opinions about him, triggering talk that he’s not a candidate to be ignored.
“I had a very interesting morning,” Trump told reporters at the White House. The “person that is chosen will be outstanding.”
White House Counsel Don McGahn will oversee the nomination and confirmation fight, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement earlier. Trump said again that he’ll name his nominee on July 9. The White House aims to have Kennedy’s replacement confirmed in time for the court’s next session in October.
Preparation at Bedminster
The president spent the weekend at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, where he had “extensive” conversations with McGahn about the nomination, an administration official said. He studied up on the backgrounds of potential nominees but didn’t interview anyone in person.
Sanders’s top deputy, Raj Shah, will take a leave from his current role to oversee communications, strategy and “messaging coordination” with allied lawmakers, Sanders said Monday. The director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, Justin Clark, will be in charge of outreach to interest groups and other outside allies.
Trump has said he’s narrowed his search to about five finalists, including two women. Abortion has rapidly emerged as the critical issue in the nomination: Kennedy’s replacement could be a fifth vote to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who supports abortion rights, said Sunday on ABC’s This Week that she wouldn’t support someone who would overturn Roe. Republicans hold 51 seats in the Senate and need at least 50 votes to confirm Trump’s pick.
Another person familiar with the process said Friday the White House was focusing on Kavanaugh, Barrett, Kethledge and Thapar, as well as Thomas Hardiman, another appeals court judge.
When Barrett was confirmed in 2017 for her appellate court judgeship, she drew the support of all Senate Republicans and three Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Tim Kaine of Virginia.
“Teams of attorneys from the White House Counsel’s Office and Department of Justice are working to ensure the president has all the information he needs to choose his nominee,” Sanders said. “The Department of Justice is fully engaged to support the nomination and confirmation efforts.”