While Barrett, a former clerk of former Attorney General Antonin Scalia and a social-conservative favorite, was widely expected as the president’s election, Trump even had some of his own supporters waiting for a last-minute twist.
“There’s an X-factor that always exists with President Trump – even the people closest to him don’t always know for sure,” said former White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
Trump tried to lengthen the tension a little longer on Friday night, despite press releases from lawmakers and interest groups praising or denouncing the decision.
“You will find out tomorrow,” he told reporters as reports of their expected nomination began to mount. “I didn’t say it was her, but she’s excellent.”
One person close to the trial said it felt like the momentum faded the longer the president waited to make his choice, and it allowed Democrats to get a head start on crime gambling.
With news of Trump’s decision already known, Saturday’s event in the White House Rose Garden will be more of a formality, serving as the official start of an aggressive Republican campaign to confirm Barrett ahead of the November election.
Republican lawmakers, cabinet members and prominent Conservative leaders were invited, along with Barrett’s family, who will be flown in from South Bend, Indiana. Catholic contingency is also expected as Barrett, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law, the school is deeply religious.
It was unusual for the White House to release the news, especially because the President enjoys the opportunity to keep people informed until the last minute. The element of surprise has been a hallmark of Trump’s presidency, from Supreme Court nominations to invitations to meet North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un.
But the announcement of Trump’s third election to the Supreme Court was filled with less TV drama than it was for Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
With Gorsuch, Trump turned the decision-making process into a spectacle of the guessing game and led contenders into the White House. Reporters got into trouble at some point after one of the candidates was seen driving to Washington DC (who said he would just meet a friend). And with Kavanaugh, Trump first stepped onto the podium in the East Room himself and recorded the drama of his decision until he read Kavanaugh’s name.
Even so, the president found a way to solve a little mystery as he pondered this week. One person close to the White House argued that there were fewer than normal leaks from Trump’s talks and meetings, a rare feat in a west wing known for getting details out.
While Barrett was a clear front runner from the start, the president’s allies pushed for Barbara Lagoa, a Florida state judge who has to be won. The president did not meet with Lagoa despite traveling to the Sunshine State on Friday. His comments about interviewing candidates seemed to indicate that he made an early decision – he admitted during the week that he had no current plans to meet with Lagoa.
Several people close to the President were certain that Barrett would end up being selected – especially after impressing Trump when they met at the White House earlier this week.
Saturday’s announcement is expected to have the usual television features of a Supreme Court announcement, with a packed audience in the rose garden and coverage from all news networks. But his timing – 5:00 p.m. on a weekend – may not match prime-time ratings for the president and his election.
Obsessed with TV ratings and having White House staff print out weekly numbers for him, Trump has complained that Saturday is “Death Valley on TV.”
The strange planning for his Supreme Court announcement – which in the past happened during primetime on weekdays – was shaped by the memorial service roster for former Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died last week and his upcoming debate on Tuesday with Democratic rival Joe Biden. Trump visited the Supreme Court on Thursday to pay his respects to Ginsburg, and a memorial service for the late justice was held in the U.S. Capitol on Friday.
The setup of Saturday’s event is expected to be similar to the announcements for Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, although they will take place in a different location at the White House.
Efforts are being made behind the scenes to prepare for the media hype that will swirl around Barrett. Statements and press releases promoting Barrett as an election have been prepared in advance and discussion points have been sent to surrogate mothers who may appear on television to discuss the Supreme Court nomination.
A former senior White House official said the key for Republicans is to remain “fully aligned”, particularly in the Senate, which will be voting on Barrett’s nomination.
“The public polls are not going to change much and the senators need to see each other out there to get the message out and get the Sunday shows,” said the former official.
Barrett is expected to begin mock hearings in the coming weeks to prepare for her Senate hearing. In 2018, Kavanaugh had half a dozen prep sessions with people playing different Senators and went through a ton of material to fluently understand the legal history of hot button issues.
Barrett is not expected to have a Sherpa to guide her through meeting senators on Capitol Hill like Gorsuch and Kavanaugh did. While White House attorney Pat Cipollone was absent from the last two confirmatory hearings, he developed close relationships with many senators through the impeachment hearings. Cipollone and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows will continue to lead the process, a White House official said.
With only 39 days to go before the election, the former official said, “Every day is important now.”