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Biden talks Supreme Court timing with Democratic senators

The president huddled with Judiciary Committee members as a nomination fight looms.

President Biden walks on the South Lawn of the White House. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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Democratic senators urged President Biden on Thursday to announce his Supreme Court nomination as soon as possible, and Biden signaled he was moving quickly, as he and his party prepare for a potentially bitter confirmation battle that Democrats hope galvanizes their supporters.

“We encouraged him to do it the right way,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Judiciary chairman. “We’re anxious to get started.”

Biden, who has pledged to make his selection by the end of the month, indicated to the senators he would begin interviewing the prospective candidates next week, after he spends this weekend continuing to review their record, according to two people with direct knowledge of the meeting.

Biden’s strategy session with the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee came as the White House has also reached out to an array of Republican senators in recent days, hoping to minimizing the partisan bloodletting that has characterized Supreme Court nomination fights in recent years.

The senators said they did not recommend particular candidates to replace retiring Justice Stephen G. Breyer, despite Biden’s invitation to do so. Instead, they told him the names of potential nominees that had been reported in the press were “encouraging.”

Biden launches Supreme Court push to win Republican senators

The leading contenders include Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, and J. Michelle Childs, a federal district court judge in South Carolina. Other Black women who are sitting judges, as well as prominent civil rights lawyers and legal academics, are also being considered.

Biden also told NBC News on Thursday that he has done a “deep dive” on “about four people” for the nomination, and predicted the nomination would get bipartisan support, something rare in recent Supreme Court battles.

“I think we’ll get a vote from Republican side for the following reason: I’m not looking to make an ideological choice here,” Biden said. “I’m looking for someone to replace Judge Breyer with the same kind of capacity Judge Breyer had, with an open mind, who understands the Constitution, interprets it in a way that is consistent with the mainstream interpretation of the Constitution.”

The FBI has started interviewing people who know Jackson, Kruger and Childs as part of the formal vetting process, according to people familiar with the discussions. It is unclear whether more candidates have gone through the extensive vetting that accompanies an FBI background check, and a White House spokesman declined to comment.

Jackson got a boost Thursday from Washington attorney Jamie Gorelick, who praised the judge for her “incisive intellect and balanced, thoughtful demeanor” and said she would make a “superb” justice. Gorelick, who was deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, first met Jackson in the late 1990s when she was in private practice at Gorelick’s former law firm in the District.

Jackson’s tenure as a federal public defender and as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Gorelick said, has given her an “appreciation for criminal justice matters that most Supreme Court justices wouldn’t have in their own personal experience.”

As Biden and senior White House aides continue to sift through candidates, they are also privately courting a relatively wide circle of Republican senators who are either viewed as potential votes in favor of the eventual nominee or who sit on the Judiciary Committee, which will take the leading role in scrubbing the candidate.

Biden unveils Supreme Court confirmation team to fill vacancy

Biden spoke with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on the telephone on Tuesday, and Romney said he urged a Supreme Court pick in the mold of Breyer, who was reliably liberal but also known as a consensus-builder.

When Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) spoke with White House counsel Dana Remus two weeks ago about U.S. attorney and lower-court vacancies, she asked him to send any thoughts on the Supreme Court opening her way.

Administration officials have also been in touch with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), telling him the White House wants to make the confirmation process bipartisan if possible.

In a call with Remus, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) — the most enthusiastic Republican proponent of Childs, who hails from his home state — promised she could get bipartisan support and touted her non-Ivy League credentials.

“We’ve got to get off this Harvard-Yale track,” Graham said. “She’d be far more liberal than the person I would pick, but I expect that.” Every current Supreme Court justice except for Amy Coney Barrett attended Harvard or Yale for law school.

In her phone call with Biden last week, and in a subsequent conversation this week with Remus, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) urged the nomination of someone who was not only “extremely well-qualified” but also “within the mainstream of judicial thought,” the senator said.

“It truly was a good discussion,” Collins said, adding she told Biden she “would give his nominee fair consideration and look forward to talking with her, interviewing her, that I would use the same criteria that I used in assessing other Supreme Court nominees.”

Biden in recent days has also quietly reached out to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on the coming Supreme Court selection. She declined to comment on the call, saying that she considers the same factors with every Supreme Court nominee, with qualifications, judicial temperament and impartiality chief among them.

Graham, Collins and Murkowski have been the Republicans most likely to support Biden’s judicial nominees. All three, for instance, voted to confirm Jackson to the D.C. Circuit last year.

But Murkowski also said that her support for Jackson for the lower court does not automatically translate into a “yes” vote for her to become a Supreme Court justice.

“It is at a level that commands its own evaluation, separate and above everything that we have considered to date,” Murkowski said. “So I kind of look at it as a new page.”

In his own conversations, Durbin has promised key Republicans such as Collins and Murkowski they would have access to the eventual nominee, as well as any documents or information they request as the senators do their own vetting. Durbin has also advised the White House that if Republicans send inquiries about the nominee, the administration should “respond quickly.”

“I think it would be valuable to the Senate, as well as the Supreme Court, to have a bipartisan vote,” Durbin said. “I don’t know if we can reach it, but I want to try.”

Ann E. Marimow, Scott Wilson and Matt Viser contributed to this report.

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