Others who emerged on Trump's shortlist just days ago - federal judges Thomas M. Hardiman, Amul R. Thapar and Joan L. Larsen, as well as Sen. A Republican appointee, he has held the key vote on such high-profile issues as abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, guns, campaign finance and voting rights.
Tobias said federal appeals court judges Raymond Kethledge of MI and Brett Kavanaugh of Maryland are rumored to be the frontrunners to fill the vacant seat. The senator's office confirmed that he spoke with President Trump on Monday - and while the White House made reference to the call, further details weren't disclosed by the administration.
"It's a great group of intellectual talent", Trump said. Both Kethledge and Gorsuch once served Kennedy as law clerks, as did Kavanaugh. Trump is choosing his nominee from a list of 25 candidates vetted by conservative groups. As it stands, Trump apparently plans to make his selection in a primetime appearance in much the same way that he did with the Gorsuch announcement, proving yet again that for this President optics and production values matter more than substance. Based on his short list, a home run for Trump could mean a strike out for pro-choice and civil rights groups.
The president met with seven potential candidates this week, including two women. He was appointed in 2006 by George W. Bush.
Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at the conservative National Review, penned an op-ed in Bloomberg, pushing for Mr. Trump to pick Judge Barrett, the only woman among the apparent finalists, especially with abortion rights at the center of the confirmation battle. Both are federal appeals court judges.
Kethledge's sudden ascent in the process is widely seen in the West Wing as a outcome of what conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh has called the "whisper campaign" against Kavanaugh, with the president newly intrigued by the University of Michigan Law School graduate. All three were nominated by Republican presidents. Support for Barrett came despite the contentious hearing she faced before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Sen. Additionally, three Democrats - including Donnelly and Manchin - supported Barrett when Trump nominated her to the bench previous year.
On Wednesday, Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from ME, reiterated that she could not vote for a nominee with a "demonstrated hostility" to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman's right to an abortion. Mike Lee, R-Utah would be a "sure thing".
He pushed back against some conservative court watchers who said they feared Judge Kavanaugh would follow in the footsteps of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who could emerge as the ideological pivot of the next court and who angered conservatives by writing the crucial decision upholding most of Obamacare.
That's according to a person familiar with a phone call he says Trump placed Tuesday to discuss the opening.
But last week a political tornado barreled through her campaign and those of other red-state Democrats trying to keep their seats in a Senate that Republicans narrowly control.