WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said on Friday he has narrowed his list of choices to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy to five candidates, including two women, and will announce his nominee for the Supreme Court on July 9.
Trump also said he might have two of this finalists come for interviews this weekend to his Bedminster golf resort, where he will be spending the Fourth of July holiday -- a sign he is moving quickly so the Senate can begin its lengthy vetting and hearings, and vote in the fall.
“I’ve got it narrowed down to about five,” Trump told reporters Friday afternoon on his flight to New Jersey. “I may have two of them come up, like the old days to Bedminister ... could be this weekend ... it is exciting.”
Trump also said he would not ask the finalists for the seat about their views on Roe v. Wade. However, he does not need to make the inquiry because the 24 judges and one lawmaker on his list of 25 high court candidates all oppose abortion.
Trump did not identify his list of finalists. But it includes a favorite of some conservative advocates: Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a devout Roman Catholic who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Trump also spoke about Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who also is on the list but removed himself from consideration when he became a finalist last year.
“I actually saw him on television last night, where he said he would love the job. You know, usually, they don't say that,” Trump said. “We've become good friends … very good guy, very talented, very smart.”
In the past week, Trump has begun reaching out to lawmakers and advisers as he has sought to find the right person.
Trump said he preferred a candidate such as Justice Neil Gorsuch, his nominee that the Senate confirmed after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) abolished the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.
Trump met Thursday evening with six senators expected to play key roles in the confirmation process that will draw outsized attention and already has prompted activist groups on the left and right to gear up for a contentious and expensive battle for public opinion.
In the meeting were Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who will lead the Senate vetting and hearings, as well as the five senators who could cross party lines in the final vote: Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Collins and Murkowski have supported a women’s right to choose and could balk at an anti-abortion nominee. The Democrats in the meeting broke with their party and voted for Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation last year – and face tough re-election bids in red states this year.
McConnell said Friday he hoped the confirmation process would be done before the First Monday in October, when the Supreme Court convenes for a new term.
White House aide Marc Short said on MSNBC, "I do think the president looks to move quickly, because again he knows the caliber on the list. They were interviewed once before the last go around, so I don't think this is going to take a lot of time."