President Trump's Expected Supreme Court Announcement Sets Off Debate
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump has made his decision. NPR has learned that the president has settled on a nominee for the Supreme Court, and we will find out who it is in less than an hour. President Trump will appear at the White House with a replacement for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, 6 p.m. Pacific Time.
Kennedy has been a key swing vote on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, so Trump's decision is likely to shift the high court to the right. That has already sparked a huge battle over his confirmation - over the confirmation of whoever President Trump nominates tonight.
NPR's Mara Liasson is following all of this very closely at the White House, and NPR's Kelsey Snell has been doing the same on Capitol Hill where that confirmation fight awaits. Welcome to both of you.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.
SHAPIRO: Mara - less than an hour to go. Do you have any intel on who the president might pick?
LIASSON: No. We know that he's made up his mind (laughter). And we are glad he has since he only has an hour to go. But we do know a few things. We know that Judges Hardiman and Kavanaugh are in Washington, D.C. Amy Barrett is not. She's back at home. And so is Judge Kethledge. He's at his home in Michigan. So...
SHAPIRO: Just to give some first names - Amy Coney Barrett...
LIASSON: Amy Coney Barrett.
SHAPIRO: ...Raymond Kethledge...
SHAPIRO: ...Brett Kavanaugh, Thomas Hardiman.
LIASSON: Right. And they are the top four that the president has been considering. But Kavanaugh and Hardiman have kind of floated to the top of the mentioned recently. Kavanaugh is Don McGahn's favorite. He's the White House counsel. Hardiman, who was the runner-up last time, is a conservative on gun rights, and certainly the NRA is an important part of Trump's base that he pays meticulous attention to. And he serves with Trump's sister on the appeals court in Philadelphia, and she recommended him.
SHAPIRO: There's been of course a lot of buildup to this moment. President Trump has scheduled this primetime address with a big reveal. Do you have a sense of what the actual deliberations have been like behind the scenes?
LIASSON: I have been told that, first of all, everyone was pre-vetted because they were on this famous list that was put together by The Federalist Society that Donald Trump used in the campaign to show conservatives that he was going to be a - pick conservative judges. The list also has really helped organize the process of picking a nominee.
Unlike other personnel appointments that are chaotic and confusing in the Trump administration, the Neil Gorsuch pick was very well-organized kind of by the book - same thing with this one. So these are pre-vetted candidates. Don McGahn gives the top couple of candidates to the president, and then the president applies his own criteria, his gut instincts, whether they're camera-ready, they look like they're from central casting. And the moral of the story here is, when the White House decides to outsource something like they did with picking a Supreme Court justice - they pretty much outsourced it to The Federalist Society - it gets done with a lot less drama.
SHAPIRO: So Kelsey, let's talk about what happens after the nomination is made tonight and the fight goes to Capitol Hill. How are senators preparing for this confirmation process?
SNELL: Well, you got 30 senators - about 30 Republican senators who all boarded busses just a little bit ago from the Capitol to go over to the White House for this event. It's important to note that they're all Republicans because the White House did invite three Democrats, but they all said no.
SHAPIRO: Three Democrats from states that President Trump won.
SNELL: That is exactly right - people whose votes might be actually really important to this because another person who said that they weren't going to go is Susan Collins of Maine. She's a Republican, but she's a wildcard on this in part because she supports abortion rights, and she has said that she wouldn't vote for somebody who has been against abortion rights in their...
SHAPIRO: I think demonstrated opposition...
SNELL: Yes, demonstrated...
SHAPIRO: ...Was her phrase, yeah.
SNELL: ...Opposition is the - exactly right. So this is one of those situations where there's not a lot of room for error because Senator John McCain hasn't been in the Senate in months. And he hasn't been voting. So they're not entirely clear if he will be there for this, which would leave them a very narrow margin.
SHAPIRO: And tell us about the timeline. I know Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants a vote by the fall. Does that seem realistic?
SNELL: It does seem realistic because if you think about it, the last two justices got through in about 66 days, so that really puts this on a good timeline for that to be done in the early fall. This all starts tomorrow when whoever the nominee is will come up to Capitol Hill and start meeting with senators. And that person will be accompanied by former Senator Jon Kyl, who is what we often call the Sherpa. He's the person whose job it is to kind of move the nominee from meeting to meeting and kind of play the person who starts conversations and keeps conversations going and make sure that the person is prepared for - to be interrogated.
SHAPIRO: Mara, this is happening during a midterm election year. What kind of an impact do you think this confirmation fight could have on people voting in November?
LIASSON: Well, Republicans will tell you they think this is a great thing for them. This energizes their base. Republican voters generally care more about the Supreme Court than Democratic voters, at least in past elections. So not only do they think they can raise a lot of money around this, but this is something that will unify Republicans and energize them. Democrats are hoping that they finally can convince their voters to care about this. Maybe they don't have the votes to stop this confirmation, but they are trying to educate their voters that electing more Democrats means you have control over things like Supreme Court nominees.
The big question is, what will those three Democrats who voted for Neil Gorsuch do this time? That's Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly and Heidi Heitkamp. They come from red states. Donald Trump won those states by big margins. They're all up for re-election. Do they think it's in their interest to vote with the president and anger the Democratic base or stick with their base and vote no?
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Mara Liasson and Kelsey Snell. Thanks to both of you.
SNELL: Thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.