President Donald Trump said he will announce his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, two days earlier than previously planned, as he looks to quickly put his imprint on the court's ideological leaning by restoring its conservative majority.
Trump, in a Twitter post on Monday, said he would unveil at the White House at 8 p.m. on Tuesday his pick to fill the lingering vacancy on the court left by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.
Trump told reporters at the White House that he would name "a person who is unbelievably highly respected. And I think you will be very impressed with this person."
Three conservative U.S. appeals court judges appointed to the bench by Republican former President George W. Bush are among those under close consideration by Trump. They are: Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Thomas Hardiman, who serves on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and William Pryor, a judge on the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Trump, who took office on Jan. 20, said last week that evangelical Christians "will love my pick."
The nominee must be confirmed for the lifetime post by the Senate, where Trump's fellow Republicans hold a 52-48 majority. Democrats, however, could use procedural hurdles to try to block the nomination.
Trump said last week he would favor Senate Republicans changing long-standing voting rules to allow a simple majority of the 100-seat Senate to confirm his nominee, eliminating the need to gather 60 votes to overcome a procedure hurdle, or filibuster.
Some have dubbed such an approach the "nuclear option."
Democrats are still furious over the Republican-led Senate's refusal last year to consider Democratic President Barack Obama's nomination of appeals court Judge Merrick Garland for the vacant Supreme Court seat, an action with little precedent in U.S. history.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has said it is hard to imagine Trump picking a nominee who Democrats could support, and said he would "absolutely" fight to keep the seat vacant rather than let the Senate confirm a nominee deemed to be outside the mainstream.
Since Scalia's death, the Supreme Court has been split between four conservatives and four liberals. Obama's pick could have created a liberal majority on the court for the first time in decades.
Trump previously said he would announce his nominee on Thursday.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rasco; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Will Dunham and Paul Simao)