President Trump spoke on Tuesday with three potential candidates to succeed retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court, according to the White House — one day after discussing the vacancy with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), seen as a long-shot contender to fill the slot.
White House spokesman Raj Shah confirmed the discussions between Trump and the prospective nominees in a statement Tuesday but did not name them. The Lee interview was conducted over the phone on Monday, according to the senator’s spokesman, Conn Carroll.
“It was in a nominee capacity,” Carroll said of the president’s interview with Lee, who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will vet Trump’s nominee. Lee’s interview with Trump was first reported by the Deseret News.
Shah also confirmed in a statement that Trump spoke on the phone with Lee on Monday, although Shah did not characterize it as an interview.
“He’s an outstanding talent,” Trump said of Lee on Friday during a gaggle with reporters on Air Force One. “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 and White House aides are racing toward a July 9 date to announce his pick to replace Kennedy, a nomination likely to lead to a monumental confirmation battle in an already-heated election year. The White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have said they want to confirm Kennedy’s successor by the time the Supreme Court convenes for its fall term in October.
Also on Monday, Trump conducted interviews with four federal appeals court judges seen as top contenders to replace Kennedy: Brett M. Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Amul R. Thapar and Raymond Kethledge. Another judge considered to be on the shortlist is Judge Thomas M. Hardiman, who was a finalist last year when Trump ultimately nominated Neil M. Gorsuch.
All those candidates are on the list of 25 potential Supreme Court nominees maintained by the White House, as are Lee and Lee’s brother, Thomas, who serves on the Utah Supreme Court.
“I interviewed 4 very impressive people yesterday,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “On Monday I will be announcing my decision for Justice of the United States Supreme Court!”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has said Trump plans to interview two or three more potential Supreme Court candidates.