Politics Trump team weighs whether to interview new candidates for high court
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President Donald Trump and his team are weighing a key decision this weekend: whether to nominate a Supreme Court candidate who already has been carefully vetted and interviewed, or take extra time to select someone newer to his process who could yield a bigger election-year payoff.
As he put two men on the Supreme Court during his term, Trump also interviewed Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, according to two people familiar with the matter. Barrett is considered the leading contender because of her conservative credentials, Trump’s interest in picking a woman and the fact that she’s already been interviewed, according to four people familiar with the White House process.
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But Trump is also considering two other women who he had not interviewed but emerged on histhis month, according to four people familiar with the process. One is former Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Lagoa, now a federal appeals court judge who is Cuban American, has the strong backing of Trump ally Gov. Ron DeSantis and whose nomination could support Trump’s efforts to win Florida this fall.
In a call with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Friday, Trump mentioned Barrett and Lagoa, according to one of the people.
Another is Allison Jones Rushing, an appeals court judge in her late 30s who would be among the youngest justices ever to serve on the court, ensuring a conservative in the seat for even longer than others.
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Trump is expected to announce a nomination by the middle of next week, according to two people familiar with the plans, allowing for a few more days of mourning for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday.
A third person said if he waits until after Wednesday the White House will have trouble pushing a replacement through this year. “It’s important to simplify the process,” said a former White House official.
The president on Saturdayfellow Republicans to move quickly in filling the seat. “We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices,” Trump tweeted. “We have this obligation, without delay!”
Lagoa is on a list of names that Trump released earlier this month as possible replacements. But unlike Barrett, people close to the process say Lagoa has demographic and geographic advantages in her favor when it comes to the politics of Senate confirmation and the presidential election: Lagoa hails from Trump’s must-win state of Florida and she’s Cuban American.
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“Justice Lagoa is perfect,” said one source, who has discussed the matter with White House officials but was not authorized to speak on record. “The president wants a conservative jurist and he wants to win the biggest battleground. How do Democrats in the Senate vote against a Latina?”
A second Republican who has close ties to Florida said that “Lagoa is at the top of the list. She checks a lot of boxes.”
But some conservative groups could object based on what they see as Lagoa’s insufficient record on abortion, the ultimate litmus test issue on the right. One prominent GOP senator, Josh Hawley of Missouri, has already said he would only vote for a nominee who has affirmed that Roe v. Wade was “wrongly decided.”
Barrett came to be well-liked among white evangelicals after the former law professor was criticized during a 2017 confirmation hearing by Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein, who said “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern,” a reference to her Catholic faith and the issue of abortion. “The base loves her. They want her,” said a former Senate Republican aide. “She’s young, Catholic, conservative.”
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Barrett has her own geographic advantage: She hails from Indiana, the home state of Vice President Mike Pence, and she’s well-known and liked by the White House legal team.
One risk for her nomination is that shea November 2018 statement from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who criticized Trump for blasting an opinion from an “Obama judge.”
Rushing has served on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the past 18 months.
She’s been a darling of social conservatives and a target of Democrats and LGBTQ groups for a previous internship at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit based in Arizona. Rushing was confirmed on a straight party line vote in 2019.
Trump could conceivably interview Lagoa, Rushing or any others by phone or video if he wanted to move quickly on newer names.
“Historically those have been done by the president or the vice president,” said Carrie Severino, president of the Judicial Crisis Network. “I don’t know how 2020 changes that in terms of traveling and getting people in from different places. But I expect that there will be interviews happening in the next few days.”
During his earlier nomination decisions, Trump also interviewed Amul Thapar and Raymond Kethledge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, Tom Hardiman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and William H. Pryor Jr. of the U.S. Circuit of the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, according to two people familiar with those processes.
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McConnell vowed Friday night that the nominee will be put to the Senate floor for a vote, though some of his fellow Republicans balked and Democrats quickly called for a delay until after the Nov. 3 election when control of the White House and Senate could flip.
Meridith McGraw and Nancy Cook contributed to this report.
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