The time frame and the fact his transition team has met with “numerous” candidates were the only new revelations about the impending nomination, which was an important plank of his campaign and the reason many social conservatives and evangelicals held their noses to elect him president.
“I’ll be making that decision, and it will be a decision which I very strongly believe in,” Trump said during his long-awaited news conference on how he plans to deal with business conflicts. “I think it’s one of the reasons I got elected. I think the people of this country did not want to see what was happening with the Supreme Court, so I think it was a very, very big decision as to why I was elected.”
Later on Wednesday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence told reporters he has been meeting with Democratic senators to give them a sense of Trump’s plans for the Supreme Court.
“Today was really about talking about our legislative agenda, but also meeting with members of the Senate to get their input on the president’s decision about filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court,” Pence said, according to CNN. The former Indiana governor met with Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Joe Manchin (W.V.).
Pence may be trying to get to 60 — the number of senators needed to break an expected filibuster and move forward on a vote on a Trump nominee. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said he expects a “mainstream” candidate to succeed Scalia ― or, if not, for Senate Republicans to expect a fight.
Unlike President Barack Obama, who kept his cards close and put a lot of thought into his nominees to the high court, Trump has made no bones about relying on the input of two conservative organizations, The Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation, to shape his list of 21 potential nominees.
“Jim DeMint was also very much involved, and his group, which is fantastic, and he’s a fantastic guy,” he said Wednesday, singling out the Heritage president and former South Carolina senator.
Strangely, Trump also said his list now contains 20 names, which suggests someone may have been removed from it — perhaps Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who in the lead-up to the election was a fierce Trump critic and brushed off a possible nod to replace Scalia.
Among those rumored to be closest to getting Trump’s seal of approval are a handful of federal appeals judges, including U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor of the 11th Circuit, and U.S. Circuit Judge Diane Sykes of the 7th Circuit.
Trump said Wednesday his shortlist is made up of judges who are “outstanding in every case,” but for all the public knows, he may very well rely on looks to make his final choice.