BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. — A family separation crisis of his own making continues at the border. His Environmental Protection Agency chief just quit amid mounting scandals. And he’s about to meet with an adversary accused of meddling in the 2016 election.
But President Donald Trump has every confidence that on Monday night, the nation’s attention will be right where he wants it.
After more than a week of pitched speculation, Trump will go on prime-time television to reveal his choice to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, selecting a conservative designed to rally Republican voters in a midterm election year. And with that, the optics-obsessed president will be in his comfort zone - taking center stage in a massive show.
Nearly 18 months after Trump set in motion Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination, the reality star-turned-president is more seasoned, more embittered and increasingly comfortable exerting his will over the machinery of government and his own staff. His upcoming “Supreme” show is the latest example of Trump’s push to remake the federal bench with young conservative judges, a crusade he believes will energize GOP voters concerned about the state of the judiciary.
Trump is largely following the same playbook this time as when he successfully rolled out Gorsuch’s nomination in January 2017. White House aides have strict instructions to keep information under wraps so Trump himself can make the big reveal. The president was gleeful when Gorsuch’s name didn’t leak out early.
“So was that a surprise?” Trump said, after announcing his decision.
Still, there are differences this time. In the last go-around, the White House relied heavily on outside consultants to push Gorsuch over the finish line. Despite a staff exodus that has left key vacancies across the West Wing, the White House this time is retaining more control over the nomination and confirmation processes. A war room of communications, legal and research staff has been assembled in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to promote and defend the nominee.
Trump has reveled in building up suspense in the days leading up to his speech, offering fragments of information here and there but strategically keeping the guessing game alive. Drawn from a public list of 25 candidates approved by conservative groups, the president’s top contenders include federal appeals court judges Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge, with judges Amy Coney Barrett and Thomas Hardiman still considered in the mix. The White House has been preparing confirmation materials on all four.
Speaking to reporters Thursday on Air Force One, Trump was coy....“I don’t want to say the four,” he said. “But I have it down to four.”Past announcements of Supreme Court nominees were not made in prime time. President Barack Obama announced the selection of Justices Elena Kagan and