WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Monday that he will probably announce his Supreme Court nominee to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by the end of the week.
"I would say on Friday or Saturday I’ll be announcing the pick," Trump told reporters before departing the White House for a rally in Ohio. "Five women are being looked at and vetted very carefully. Five. And we’ll make a decision – probably Saturday, but Friday or Saturday."
Trump said earlier in the day that he wants to make the announcement once funeral services for Ginsburg, who died Friday at age 87, are over. A White House official says the president is eyeing a primetime address or event that includes the eventual nominee, similar to events held when he announced the nominations of both Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Trump said he wants the Senate to hold a confirmation vote for the nominee before the Nov. 3 election but it is unclear if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will follow that timeline because some Senators facing tough re-election bids could benefit for a vote after the election, said one person familiar with the process.
"That’ll be up to Mitch in the Senate, but I’d certainly much rather have the vote" prior to the election, Trump said. "I think it sends a good signal and it’s solidarity and lots of other things. And I’m just doing my constitutional obligation – I have an obligation to do this, so I would rather see it before the election."
Trump declined earlier to name the five women he is considering, though during a Fox News interview this morning he said one of them is 38 years old, which he said could mean the person could be a Supreme Court justice for 50 years. He also appeared to confirm that Judge Barbara Lagoa, now on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and formerly on Florida's Supreme Court, is among the choices.
“She's excellent, Hispanic. She's a terrific woman from everything I know,” Trump said when asked about her in a Fox News interview. “I don't know her. ... Florida. We love Florida. So very smart — they're all very smart.”
Multiple sources close to the process told NBC News that, in reality, it's revolving around two serious contenders: Amy Coney Barrett and Lagoa. Trump said he may meet with Lagoa when he is in Miami on Friday. He spoke with Coney Barrett today, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
Backers of Barrett point out that she has earned a comfort level and familiarity with senators including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that the other potential nominees don’t have. She also has standing in the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group that has proven to be influential with Trump.
Others involved in the process believe Lagoa would be a better candidate politically, noting her wide appeal, impressive immigrant story, long history of firsts, and her Cuban roots and background defending Elian Gonzalez as a huge plus among Florida’s Cuban community.
Another name that’s been mentioned is Alison Jones Rushing, a North Carolinian liked by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, but she isn't believed to be in the top two.
Asked if politics will be a factor in his final decision, Trump said Monday, “I try not to say so,” but he said it “probably automatically” becomes one even if that’s not his intention.
“We tend to go young, and I think in almost all cases, you could have somebody be on the bench for 40 or 50 years,” he said. “We're looking for somebody who's brilliant, really understands the law and abides by the Constitution, and a good person, we're looking for a good person.”
Trump suggested that he wants to fill Ginsburg's vacancy as soon as possible because he anticipates having legal issues surrounding the election and doesn't want the possibility of a 4-4 Supreme Court ruling if that is the case.
"We have an obligation to do what's right and act as quickly as possible." the president said. "We should act quickly because we're going to have probably election things involved here, you know, because of the fake ballots that they'll be sending out which is a terrible. ... We don't want to have a tie, no, we don't. And we want to have nine justices."
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and who would oversee confirmation hearings, said in a letter to Democratic members of the panel on Monday that he will move forward with Trump's nominee, despite his past public assurances that he would not during an election year. Graham, in his letter, cited what he saw as unfair treatment of Trump's other nominees, such as Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
"Because our Senate majority committed to confirming President Trump’s excellent judicial nominees — and particularly because we committed to supporting his Supreme Court nominees — the American people expanded the Republican majority in 2018. We should honor that mandate," he said in the letter.
"I therefore think it is important that we proceed expeditiously to process any nomination made by President Trump to fill this vacancy. I am certain if the shoe were on the other foot, you would do the same."
GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told reporters on Monday that he has doubts that a nominee could be nominated and confirmed before Election Day.
"The ones that have been done more quickly have typically been done with a lot more cooperation," he said. "I think I'm not expecting much cooperation from the Democrats."
Reacting to the decision by two Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — to oppose holding a confirmation vote before the election, Trump said that Collins is "very badly hurt by her statement" in her re-election race. He also suggested that Murkowski's stance would haunt her in a future race as well.
Asked about Ginsburg's dying wish, in which she reportedly said she didn't want to be replaced until a new president was in office, Trump said, without evidence, "I don't know that she said that, or was that written out by Adam Schiff and Schumer and Pelosi? I would be more inclined to the second, OK, you know. It came out of the wind, it sounds so beautiful. But that sounds like a Schumer deal, or maybe a Pelosi or shifty Schiff. So that came out of the wind."
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who would be a key vote, said in a Monday statement that he also opposes nominating and voting on a judicial nominee before Election Day.
"For Mitch McConnell and my Republican colleagues to rush through this process after refusing to even meet with Judge Merrick Garland in 2016 is hypocrisy in its highest form," he said. "I implore every Senator, regardless of party, to honor their responsibility to act in a manner that brings this country together rather than feed a cycle of endless political division.”
Just days before she died, Ginsburg dictated a statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera that said, "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed," NPR reported.