Obama zeroes in on court pick

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President Obama is zeroing in on a Supreme Court nominee.

The president has reportedly begun to interview potential replacements for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. And in the last day, two contenders had taken their names out of consideration, providing another indication that the White House is winnowing its list of candidates.

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“The president’s made some progress,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.

Obama is expected to put forward a nominee any day.

He took roughly a month to nominate both Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the high court, a timeline White House officials have pointed to as a guidepost for the current nomination process. Scalia died 26 days ago. 

The president’s schedule makes it more likely that an announcement will come next week. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is making a state visit to the White House this Thursday, while Obama is traveling Friday to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

Publicly, aides have been reluctant to share specifics about the president’s timeline. Told by a reporter there is anxiousness about the opaque nature of the process, Earnest replied with a sly grin, “It’s exciting, isn’t it?”

But there are clear signs a decision is near. 

Obama has moved beyond reviewing information about potential nominees and has started to interview them, according to NPR

Candidates on the president’s interview list include Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; Judge Sri Srinivasan, of the same court; 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Paul Watford; Judge Jane Kelly, of the 8th Circuit; and U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who serves in Washington, NPR reported, citing sources close to the process. 

The first three are considered the leading contenders, according to the outlet.

Another person under consideration is D.C. Circuit Court Judge Patricia Millett, according to The Washington Post.

At least three candidates reportedly considered for the job have taken themselves out of the running. 

Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was rumored to be on Obama’s list, on Tuesday said she had asked the White House to take her out of consideration. Federal appellate court Judge Adalberto Jordan did the same on Wednesday. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), who was reportedly being vetted for the open seat, withdrew late last month.

White House officials have repeatedly said Obama’s list of candidates is not closed and that other names could be added. They also have not publicly confirmed any of the names said to be under consideration.

Almost every candidate that is being mentioned in press reports has ties to Republicans, from relationships with GOP lawmakers to experience clerking for a Republican-appointed judge to past support from the party on a confirmation vote; at least two have all three.

Srinivasan and Kelly were both confirmed to the federal bench unanimously by the Senate in 2013. Kelly was backed by her home state senator, Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyOvernight Cybersecurity: Guccifer plea deal raises questions in Clinton probe Could Romanian hacker ‘Guccifer’ assist FBI’s probe of Clinton? Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns MORE (R), who now helms the Judiciary Committee, which will oversee the nomination process. Srinivasan is friends with Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzFiorina returns to attack Clinton's 'lust for power' Trump clinches GOP nomination Eleven states sue Obama over transgender bathroom directive MORE (R-Texas), a leading presidential candidate.

A Clinton appointee, Garland has garnered a reputation as centrist and was backed by Republican senators during his 1997 confirmation vote.

“These are all individuals who have already served the country in the judicial branch with distinction,” Earnest said of those judges, without
confirming whether they’re being considered. “And having that kind of background certainly does give us an indication that they could be good Supreme Court nominees.”

With the exception of Garland, all have served a relatively short time on the federal bench, which could make it harder for Republicans to find objectionable items in their paper trails.

Several candidates have unique racial, ethnic and professional backgrounds, an important attribute for Obama, who has valued diversity in his past judicial nominations. Jackson, who is related by marriage to Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanOvernight Finance: GOP faces dilemma on spending bills | CEOs push Congress on tax rules | Trump talks energy Overnight Energy: Trump outlines 'America First' energy plan in North Dakota Bible verse prompts GOP walkout after LGBT vote labeled a sin MORE (R-Wis.), would be the first black woman on the high court. Watford would also add a second African-American judge to the bench.

Obama is moving ahead with the nomination process despite warnings from Senate Republicans that they will make life miserable for any nominee.

Senate GOP Whip John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Tech: House GOP launches probe into phone, internet subsidies Senators hope for deal soon on mental health bill GOP leader pushes for special counsel to investigate Clinton emails MORE (Texas) this week predicted Obama’s nominee would “bear some resemblance to a piñata,” suffering reputational harm for only a distant chance at being confirmed.

The Republican saber-rattling has raised speculation that potential nominees could be scared off by what’s expected to be a bruising confirmation fight.

Republicans have vowed that Obama’s pick will not even receive a hearing, but some legal experts believe their wall of opposition could begin to crack once the president makes a pick. 

“It’s easier when you have an abstraction to say no,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law who tracks judicial nominations. 

“Once you have a real live human being, I think it does become more difficult. Especially if you have someone like Srinivasan, who charmed the Judiciary Committee when he testified three years ago.”