White House officials have begun reaching out to potential Supreme Court candidates to gather more information about their records with about three weeks remaining before President Joe Biden’s self-imposed deadline to announce his Supreme Court pick, CNN has learned.
In addition, as a part of the normal protocol in the vetting process, the FBI has contacted friends and former colleagues of potential nominees.
A senior administration source told CNN that there have been no in-person meetings between candidates and White House staff as yet, and that some interactions with staff are likely to be over the phone.
Daily strategy meetings inside the West Wing are also underway as Biden has spent several evenings in the residence reviewing binders related to past cases of potential picks.
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden is reviewing information on his potential nominees.
“As he’s looking at the process, he’s reviewing not just bios, but he’s also reviewing cases and he is looking at binders of cases, because he is … taking this approach very seriously. He’s taking a very thorough approach to it,” she said during a press briefing.
“Vetting documents” and “engagement with individuals” are also part of the process, Psaki said, but declined to get into further specifics. She did say that Biden would be interviewing candidates “later in the process,” noting that that typically takes place at “the very end of the process.”
In late January as Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement pending his successor’s confirmation, Biden said it was his expectation he would nominate a replacement justice by the end of February. Biden also confirmed he would be honoring his campaign promise to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.
Biden remains “on track to announce a nominee by the end of the month,” Psaki said Tuesday.
The process of selecting a Supreme Court justice historically involves a significant amount of vetting and interviews at the staff and presidential level.
The President has said he intends to seek the advice and consent of the Senate, and made good on that last week as he welcomed Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, to the Oval Office. He also spoke by phone with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, on the matter.
The White House has also begun to staff up for the confirmation process, announcing that former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones will guide the eventual nominee through the process, a role known in Washington as “sherpa.”
Jones began work at the White House on Tuesday, two officials told CNN, as the search to fill the vacancy kicks into high gear.
He will work in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for the next several weeks and then, once the pick is announced, will be responsible for arranging meetings with senators and helping prepare for confirmation hearings.
Other outsider advisers are also expected to start this week if they haven’t already, an official said.
Minyon Moore, a veteran Democratic strategist and political director for former President Bill Clinton, will lead the efforts to activate outside advocacy groups in support of the nominee. Ben LaBolt, a former spokesman for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and in the White House, will lead outside communications efforts.
“What the President’s been focused on over the course of the last several days is reviewing and consulting with internal team members on a large – a group – of qualified nominees,” Psaki said at Monday’s press briefing.
She continued, “After last week’s meeting with Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Grassley, the President, Vice President and their senior teams, including White House counsel Dana Remus, have also spoken to a range of additional members of Congress and outside legal experts and that engagement will continue.”
A shortlist of potential nominees had been circulating Washington well before Breyer’s retirement plans became public, and officials in the White House Counsel’s office built files on various candidates in anticipation of a potential vacancy.
DC Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger and South Carolina US District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs have been widely viewed as representing an early short list.
But other women reportedly under consideration include: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Holly A. Thomas, federal Circuit Court Judge Tiffany P. Cunningham, civil rights attorney and 11th Circuit Court candidate Nancy G. Abudu, 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Arianna J. Freeman, NYU law professor Melissa Murray, 7th Circuit Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, District Judge Wilhelmina “Mimi” Wright, North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, 2nd Circuit Judge Eunice Lee and Sherrilyn Ifill, a civil rights attorney who recently announced plans to step down from her role as President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Asked Tuesday whether the field had winnowed from the dozen candidates floated, Psaki acknowledged, “That is a natural part of the process,” but declined to reveal specific numbers of remaining candidates.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.