MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
President Trump today praised Justice Kennedy for his vision and his heart. And the president said a search for someone to replace the outgoing justice will begin immediately. So for more on that part of the story, let's turn to NPR's Scott Horsley. He's at the White House. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So I just asked Nina Totenberg here in the studio when she found out about this news. She learned of the retirement around 2 o'clock this afternoon. When did the president find out?
HORSLEY: Not much different than that. The White House did not get a lot of warning about this. Certainly the administration has been doing everything it can to sort of ease Kennedy out the door, trying to reassure the justice that the court would be in good hands if he left. But they didn't know for sure he was going until this afternoon. Kennedy's resignation letter is dated today. And Trump told reporters as he was waiting to meet with the Portuguese president that Kennedy delivered the news in person.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He came to the White House. We had a wonderful discussion just prior to meeting the president and really had a very deep discussion. I got his ideas on things, including - I asked him if he had certain people that he had great respect for that potentially could take his seat, which is a very hard seat to fill.
KELLY: Now, Scott, I mentioned the president says he's not going to waste any time choosing a successor here and that in fact he already has more than two dozen candidates lined up. What do we know about them?
HORSLEY: That's right. There's a list of 25 potential nominees on the White House website on a list that was assembled with the help of conservative legal advocates. The president said today he will choose someone from that list, so we know it will be someone conservative, probably more conservative than Justice Kennedy, someone in the mold of Neil Gorsuch, the president's first nominee, or his predecessor, Antonin Scalia. You know, it's not unusual for a president to have a list like this, but it is unusual to make it public, as Trump has done. That's something Trump started when he was campaigning for the White House.
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TRUMP: When I was running, I put down a list of 20 people because not being a politician, I think people wanted to hear what some of my choices may be. And it was pretty effective.
HORSLEY: That is an understatement. That list of conservative judicial nominees really won Trump a lot of support from social conservatives in the 2016 election. Republicans are hoping the list and this vacancy on the high court will again be a motivator for GOP voters as we approach the midterm elections.
KELLY: Well, I was going to ask you about the calendar because the election's looming in November. Once the president decides on who his pick is, how might midterms affect the confirmation process?
HORSLEY: Well, there are a couple big dates on the calendar. Of course October 1 is when the high court begins its new term. They would love to have someone in place by then.
HORSLEY: But the other big date is November 6, that midterm election when votes will be cast for the closely contested Senate. Now Democrats have an uphill battle trying to retake the Senate. But GOP leader Mitch McConnell is not taking any chances that a new Democratic Senate might scuttle this nominee, so he has said today he's going to have a confirmation vote this fall with the current GOP majority. And remember, Republicans only need 50 votes plus the vice president to confirm the president's nominee.
KELLY: And this name, Mitch McConnell, keeps coming up because of course we remember McConnell playing a key role the first time that President Trump got to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, right?
HORSLEY: That's right. And it's not just vacancies on the Supreme Court. You know, the Republican-controlled Senate left an awful lot of vacancies at the appellate court level and the district court level as well. So when Trump came into office, he had an unusual number of vacancies to fill. He has been busy filling those seats with young, conservative-minded judges. So already, less than a year and a half into his term, this president has put a substantial mark on the judiciary.
KELLY: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Thank you, Scott.
HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.