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White House brings on Doug Jones to help in Supreme Court nomination process

President Biden also met for the first time Tuesday with key senators to discuss the confirmation process for the first time since Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement.

WASHINGTON — The White House plans to bring on former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones to assist the eventual nominee for the Supreme Court as President Joe Biden moves ahead with plans to name his pick by the end of the month, according to a White House official.

Jones will be part of a larger team, still to be announced, that will help with the nominee's introductions in the Senate and preparations for the confirmation hearings, the official said. Administration officials say they expect to have this group assembled to aid the eventual nominee by the time the president announces his selection, likely by the end of this month.

Biden, along with Vice President Kamala Harris, sat down with Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to seek their input on who he should select on Tuesday. It was Biden’s first formal meeting with the senators to discuss the confirmation process following the announcement last week by Justice Stephen Breyer that he would be retiring at the end of the court's term.

"I'm serious when I say that I want the advice of the Senate as well as the consent," Biden told reporters ahead of the meeting. The president said he would be "looking for a candidate with character, with the qualities of a judge, in terms of being courteous to the folks before them and treating people with respect, as well as judicial philosophy that is more one that suggests that there are unenumerated rights in the Constitution."

Biden also called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Tuesday to discuss the upcoming nomination, McConnell's office said.

"The Leader believes the cornerstone of a nominee’s judicial philosophy should be a commitment to originalism and textualism," his office said in a statement. "He emphasized the importance of a nominee who believes in judicial independence and will resist all efforts by politicians to bully the Court or to change the structure of the judicial system."

Biden has said he will seek input from both parties before making his selection. But when asked Tuesday whether being able to get Republicans votes would factor into who the president ultimately selects, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden's “focus is on picking the person who is eminently qualified, who is ready to serve and prepared to serve in a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, not in navigating the legislative process."

Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in the Senate, but the question of whether they will have all those members available for a confirmation vote was thrown into question late Tuesday after the chief of staff for Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., said the lawmaker had suffered a stroke and undergone surgery over the weekend. Lujan's office said he is expected to make a full recovery, but didn't indicate when he might be able to return to the Senate.

Biden reaffirmed his commitment last week to nominate a Black woman to the court and said again Tuesday that he plans to make a pick by the end of the month in what could be one of his most consequential decisions as president.

Durbin said Monday that he has spoken to Republican senators who sounded open to supporting a pick by Biden. But with Democrats holding a razor thin majority in the Senate, they won’t need any Republican votes to confirm Biden's nominee if they stick together.

Over the weekend, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee who has voted for many of Biden's judges, spoke highly of one of the candidates the White House said Biden is considering — U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs.

In addition to Childs, other high-profile contenders include federal appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger. A source familiar with the White House’s process said last week that two other women are under consideration: New York University law professor Melissa Murray and U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright of Minnesota.

Psaki said Monday there are more than those three names under consideration.

During the Tuesday meeting, Durbin reiterated his commitment for the nominee to "receive a prompt confirmation vote," Emily Hampsten, a spokesperson for the senator, said in a statement.

“Chair Durbin is grateful to the President for today’s bipartisan meeting with Senator Grassley and the President’s commitment to the Constitution’s edict of ‘advice and consent,'" Hampsten said.