President Donald Trump is expected to finalize his choice for the Supreme Court by Thursday or Friday, two people familiar with the search say, allowing aides in a newly-minted White House war room to spend the weekend preparing for a summer confirmation fight.
But in this leak-prone White House, the President's choice will be guarded as closely as a wartime command. His decision will be included on a larger list of finalists, with at least two -- possibly three -- names shared with members of the administration's Supreme Court confirmation team.
This also allows the President to change his mind before he introduces his next Supreme Court nominee from the White House on Monday evening, aides say.
An 11th-hour lobbying campaign is furiously underway, with the President and his team fielding calls from Senators, conservative activists, donors and friends who are trying to argue the case for or against one of the leading contenders.
Even though the federal government is closed for Independence Day, aides said, the President is expected to take calls and speak with people about the search throughout the day and even into evening at his July 4th party at the White House. Officials have made it clear that time is running out for senators to convey their thoughts to the President before he makes his pick.
While the Republican Party has become more unified than it's been in years with Trump in the White House, familiar fissures are re-emerging between religious conservatives who champion social issues and legal conservatives who abhor government encroachment.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, has called the President to express concerns about Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who sits on the federal appeals court and is a veteran of the Bush White House. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has conveyed his support of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Those are among the names of the leading contenders, but people close to the search process say the President is still considering at least five other candidates to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
The President is traveling to Montana on Thursday for a campaign rally before flying to New Jersey, where he will spend a three-day weekend at his summer golf retreat in Bedminster. Along the way, aides said, Trump is likely to still keep taking input on what is one of the biggest decisions of his presidency, even though he may have already settled on a choice by then.
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