She is a favorite of religious conservatives and is already battle-tested after going through a ferocious confirmation fight in 2017 for her seat on the appeals court. But Trump aides and allies continue to push other candidates, with Judge Barbara Lagoa of the 11th Circuit considered the other top contender.
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.
“I’d much rather have a vote before the election because there’s a lot of work to be done, and I’d much rather have it,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday before leaving for events in Dayton and Swanton, Ohio. “And we have plenty of time to do it.”
He prodded wavering GOP senators to get in line behind him.
“I think their voters — the people that voted them put them there because of a certain ideology or certain feel,” he said. “And they don’t want to have somebody” be reluctant about Trump’s pick.
Several officials familiar with the discussions over the pending nomination outlined Trump’s current thinking on who should replace Ginsburg, the liberal icon who died of pancreatic cancer on Friday, and the state of play in the Senate. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are private.
Two Trump advisers said 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.
“If we are talking about abortion and Roe v. Wade for the next six weeks, that’s not a good thing,” one senior Republican said. “We will lose.”
In turn, Meadows has been privately advising against Lagoa amid concerns that the Florida jurist and other 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.
The decision will come “probably Saturday,” Trump said, although he said it could come on Friday. Ginsburg will lie in repose at the Supreme Court on Wednesday and Thursday and lie in state Friday at the Capitol, making her the first woman to be honored in that way in the Capitol’s 227-year history.
Other candidates who are in the mix but viewed as long shots at the moment are Judge Allison Jones Rushing of the 4th Circuit and deputy White House counsel Kate Todd.
Meadows, who like Rushing is from North Carolina, has been the primary voice floating her for the vacancy. Rushing, 38, was first brought to the attention of the White House by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who worked with administration lawyers on her nomination to the Richmond-based appeals court. Meanwhile, Todd has worked closely on judicial nominations at the White House but has not been through the confirmation process herself and is not considered a top-tier pick.
A number of Trump aides, allies and senators met in the office of Jim DeMint, chairman of the Conservative Partnership Institute, on Monday night to discuss the nomination and how to confirm the nominee with the help of donors, outside support and the White House, according to three people familiar with the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks. Among those present, Coney Barrett was the favorite candidate, two of the people said.
McConnell on Monday did not say anything publicly about whom he prefers for the position. But he reiterated that the Senate has a right to take up the nomination in this election year, even though he denied Merrick Garland, a nominee of President Barack Obama, the same hearing and vote for months before the 2016 presidential election.
The majority leader continued to stop short of laying out a timeline for the vote, even as Trump and conservative GOP senators began to agitate to confirm the eventual nominee before the election.
“I think it should take as long as it takes,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership. “At the same time, I don’t think we should drag it out. I don’t think we should have a barrier here that gets in the way of people feeling like this took as long as it needed to take.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is being closely watched as a third potential defection. A spokeswoman for the senator said he will not say anything publicly until at least Tuesday afternoon, after he meets for lunch with other Senate Republicans and hears their views.
Trump also solicited advice from prominent social conservative leaders such as Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that opposes access to abortion. The president felt confident after those conversations, feeling that the conservative movement was aligned behind his court strategy.
“He is right,” Dannenfelser tweeted Monday. “We agree the vote on a nominees must occur before the election. Plenty of time. #prolifecourt.”
That point was emphasized in a list of talking points distributed from the White House to outside allies on Monday, which said that “it’s not unusual for a justice to be confirmed in a short period of time.” The average length of a Supreme Court nomination since 1975 has taken upward of 70 days.
“The President and his team will be working closely with Leader McConnell and the Senate to ensure a timely and thorough process,” read the talking points, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “There is ample time for the Senate to fulfill its constitutional obligation and take up this nomination.”