Trump still pondering Supreme Court pick as big reveal nears

Published 07-08-2018

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BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) – President Donald Trump on Sunday was still deliberating his decision on a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as his self-imposed deadline for an announcement neared amid furious lobbying and frenzied speculation.

Trump, who spent the weekend at his New Jersey golf club, has not yet communicated a final choice, said a person familiar with his thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly. Trump has spent the weekend discussing his options with allies and will announce his pick at 9 p.m. Monday from the White House.

Savoring the suspense, Trump has sought to keep people guessing in the final hours, hoping to replicate his successful announcement of Justice Neil Gorsuch last year. The White House hoped to keep the details under wraps until he rolls out his pick from the East Room.

Top contenders for the role have included federal appeals judges Brett Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman. The White House has been preparing information materials on all four, who were part of a longer list of 25 names vetted by conservative groups.

In his conversations over the weekend, Trump expressed renewed interest in Hardiman – the runner-up when Trump nominated Gorsuch, said two people with knowledge of his thinking who were not authorized to speak publicly. But Trump's final decision remained far from clear, and the president wants to keep the guessing game going.

Trump has teased details of his process in recent days, saying Thursday that he was down to four people and "of the four people, I have it down to three or two." On Saturday, he tweeted that a "Big decision" was coming soon.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Roy Blunt of Missouri said Sunday that they believe any of the top four contenders could get confirmed by the GOP-majority Senate.

"I think we can confirm any of the four names being mentioned," Blunt said on NBC's "Meet the Press." ''They're good judges. I think they'd be fine justices of the Supreme Court. I do think the president has to think about who is the easiest to get confirmed here. And I expect we will do that on sort of a normal timetable, a couple of months."

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 since Kennedy announced on June 27 that he would retire this summer.

Some conservatives have expressed concerns about Kavanaugh – a longtime judge and former clerk for Kennedy – questioning his commitment to social issues like abortion and noting his time serving under President George W. Bush as evidence he is a more establishment choice. But his supporters cite his experience and wide range of lega

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Roy Blunt of Missouri said Sunday that they believe any of the top four contenders could get confirmed by the GOP-majority Senate.

"I think we can confirm any of the four names being mentioned," Blunt said on NBC's "Meet the Press." ''They're good judges. I think they'd be fine justices of the Supreme Court. I do think the president has to think about who is the easiest to get confirmed here. And I expect we will do that on sort of a normal timetable, a couple of months."

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 since Kennedy announced on June 27 that he would retire this summer.

Some conservatives have expressed concerns about Kavanaugh – a longtime judge and former clerk for Kennedy – questioning his commitment to social issues like abortion and noting his time serving under President George W. Bush as evidence he is a more establishment choice. But his supporters cite his experience and wide range of legal opinions. Barrett has excited social conservatives since she was questioned about her Roman Catholic faith in her nomination hearings last year, but her brief time on the bench has raised questions.

Outside adviser Leonard Leo, currently on leave from the Federalist Society, said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that this kind of jockeying is standard, noting that "every potential nominee before announcement gets concerns expressed about them by people who might ultimately support them."

Leo said: "Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Barrett have a lot of name recognition among supporters of the president, and I think that ultimately when people like them are nominated, you'll see a lot of folks line up."

Of the other two, he added: "Ray Kethledge and Tom Hardiman, they're a little bit less known by conservatives. And their records are a little bit lighter. So, it might take some 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 since Kennedy announced on June 27 that he would retire this summer.

Some conservatives have expressed concerns about Kavanaugh – a longtime judge and former clerk for Kennedy – questioning his commitment to social issues like abortion and noting his time serving under President George W. Bush as evidence he is a more establishment choice. But his supporters cite his experience and wide range of legal opinions. Barrett has excited social conservatives since she was questioned about her Roman Catholic faith in her nomination hearings last year, but her brief time on the bench has raised questions.

Outside adviser Leonard Leo, currently on leave from the Federalist Society, said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that this kind of jockeying is standard, noting that "every potential nominee before announcement gets concerns expressed about them by people who might ultimately support them."

Leo said: "Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Barrett have a lot of name recognition among supporters of the president, and I think that ultimately when people like them are nominated, you'll see a lot of folks line up."

Of the other two, he added: "Ray Kethledge and Tom Hardiman, they're a little bit less known by conservatives. And their records are a little bit lighter. So, it might take some time."

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FILE - In this June 26, 2017, file photo, The Supreme Court is seen in Washington. Recent presidents have delighted in dramatically revealing the people they have chosen to sit on the Supreme Court. And they’ve gone to some lengths to keep their ultimate choice under wraps. Trump is expected on Monday to announce his choice to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) - The Associated Press


FILE - In this March 8, 2017, file photo, Judge Thomas Hardiman smiles during a meeting with The Associated Press in Philadelphia. President Donald Trump's list of candidates for the Supreme Court, posted on White House website in November 2017 includes Hardiman. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, file) - The Associated Press


In this May 7, 2008, image from video provided by C-SPAN, Raymond Kethledge testifies during his confirmation hearing for the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Donald Trump is closing in on his next Supreme Court nominee, with three federal judges leading the competition to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Trump's top contenders for the vacancy at this time are federal appeals judges Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge, said a person familiar with Trump's thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly.(C-SPAN via AP) - The Associated Press


This 2017 photo provided by the University of Notre Dame Law School in South Bend, Ind., shows Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Barrett is on President Donald Trump's list of potential Supreme Court Justice candidates to fill the spot vacated by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. (University of Notre Dame Law School via AP) - The Associated Press


FILE -In this April 26, 2004, file photo, Brett Kavanaugh appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Kavanaugh is on President Donald Trump's list of potential Supreme Court Justice candidates to fill the spot vacated by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook, File) - The Associated Press