President Trump interviewed four potential Supreme Court nominees Monday as the White House keeps up its swift pace in the search for a successor to retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
“I had a very, very interesting morning,” Trump said as he greeted visiting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the Oval Office. He described the candidates he met as “outstanding people,” but did not name them.
Trump said he expects to meet with two or three additional candidates, and that an announcement is planned for next Monday.
At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not provide names or other details for the candidates Trump saw Monday, but did say that each meeting lasted about 45 minutes.
The interviews come on Trump’s first day back in Washington after spending the weekend at his golf club in New Jersey. A senior White House official said that Trump did not conduct any interviews with potential Supreme Court picks over the weekend.
The White House also announced Monday that spokesman Raj Shah is taking a leave of absence from his position to work full time on overseeing the communications effort associated with the upcoming Supreme Court pick.
Shah, who serves as principal deputy press secretary under Sanders, “will oversee communications, strategy and messaging coordination with Capitol Hill allies,” Sanders said in a statement.
The move is part of a broader push by the White House to rapidly confirm a replacement for Kennedy before the court’s new term begins in October. Trump has said he plans to announce a nominee July 9.
Asked about the role of the Roe v. Wade decision in Trump’s discussions, Sanders reiterated that the president is “not going to talk to judges about specific cases.”
“He’s looking for individuals that have the right intellect, the right temperament, and that will uphold the Constitution,” she said.
As a candidate, Trump had said overturning the decision legalizing abortion nationwide would be a litmus test for his court picks.
The White House also announced Monday that the overall confirmation process would be led by White House counsel Donald McGahn, as it was during the process that led to the successful confirmation last year of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.
Justin Clark, in his position as director of the Office of Public Liaison, will oversee outreach with key constituencies, coalitions, grass-roots organizations and allies, the White House said.
And it said a team of lawyers from the White House and Department of Justice are gathering information to assist Trump with the process.
Trump has said his nominee will be chosen from a preselected list of 25 candidates, most of them already fixtures on the federal courts who have been subject to public and internal vetting.
The shortlist is said to include U.S. Appeals Court Judge Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania; U.S. Appeals Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana; U.S. Circuit Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of Maryland, a former Kennedy law clerk; U.S. Circuit Judge Raymond Kethledge of Michigan, who was a finalist last year; and U.S. Appeals Court Judge Amul Thapar of Kentucky.
Democrats, meanwhile, have begun taking aim at those on Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist by name. On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) criticized Barrett’s record.
In a series of tweets, Schumer argued that Barrett would support overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision. He also pointed to Barrett’s past statements on the Affordable Care Act and contraception.
“The bottom line: Judge Barrett has given every indication that she will be an activist judge on the court,” Schumer said. “If chosen as the nominee, she will be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and to strike down preexisting conditions protections in the ACA.”
Felicia Sonmez, Seung Min Kim and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.