Jockeying over President Trump’s next Supreme Court pick ramped up Monday as the president pledged to unveil his candidate to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by the end of the week and conservative groups began aligning behind a push to quickly confirm the eventual nominee.
Trump continued to seek advice from senior White House officials, key Senate Republicans, and conservative leaders about his Supreme Court choice, who if confirmed would cement a conservative majority on the court for years.
The momentum appeared to grow behind Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, who met with Trump at the White House on Monday, according to two people familiar with her visit.
As the lobbying unfolded, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) began mobilizing his ranks behind a confirmation vote for Trump’s nominee, perhaps before the election — although he has not committed to a timetable.
Only two GOP senators — Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — have said they oppose voting on Trump’s pick before Nov. 3, while GOP support has only grown for Trump’s public demand for Senate Republicans to hold a vote by then.
Two Trump advisers said that the president told others on Monday that he was leaning toward Barrett — a Catholic conservative who fended off attacks on her religion during her appeals court confirmation hearing — because it would help with his base, particularly evangelical voters.
One official pushing that perspective is White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who has been meticulously sussing out the political ramifications of each potential nominee.
Barrett has other powerful backers within the White House, with counsel Pat Cipollone among her boosters and Vice President Pence — who, like Barrett, hails from Indiana — advocating for her internally. She served as a clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia and could boost support for Trump among Catholics in critical swing states such as Pennsylvania this fall.
McConnell has made it clear to the White House that while he will advocate for any nominee that Trump puts forward, the majority leader views Barrett as the best choice, according to several people briefed on his views. Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), who leads the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, is also lobbying for a Barrett nomination.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has said publicly that he will only support a nominee who believes Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized access to abortion, was incorrectly decided. He said Monday that Barrett “clearly meets that threshold that I’ve talked about.”
But some advisers to the president are concerned that nominating Barrett will drive the focus of the last weeks of the presidential election to abortion, galvanizing the left and ultimately hurting the president’s prospects in November.
In turn, Meadows has been privately advising against Lagoa amid concerns that the Florida jurist and another front-runner for the Ginsburg vacancy is not sufficiently conservative in her opinions.
But other advisers say Lagoa — who enjoys significant support among Miami legal circles — could be a political boon in the presidential race as Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are in a tight contest for Florida and are trying to win the support of more Latino voters nationwide.
Lagoa was the first Latina on the Florida Supreme Court and would be the second on the U.S. Supreme Court after Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Much of Trump’s decision, however, will hinge on his interviews with the finalists. He told reporters that he might interview Lagoa — whom he has not met in person — when he visits Miami on an unrelated trip later this week.
Trump has told advisers that he relishes a fight over the seat because it changes the topic of the campaign from the coronavirus pandemic and shows voters he is fighting for them, and that he believes Democrats will overplay their hand.
Trump said publicly on Monday that he was considering five women for the vacancy, but that it was unlikely he would interview all of them for the position.