Two nominees are now Trump's greatest focus for top court, NBC News says

  • Trump still is considering four nominees, but is focusing primarily on Brett Kavanaugh and Thomas Hardiman
  • The president's pick will stand for confirmation to fill the seat of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy

None of the four contenders being considered as President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court has been excluded, but the greatest focus has fallen on two candidates: Brett Kavanaugh and Thomas Hardiman, a source with first-hand knowledge of the process told NBC News.

Kavanaugh sits on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Hardiman is a judge on the 3rd Circuit of Appeals.

The other two front-runners are Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th Circuit of Appeals and Raymond Kethledge of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

CNBC reported last week that Trump privately indicated to a small group that he had settled on a nominee to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

During the July 4 picnic at the White House, Trump suggested to friends and some external advisors that he had already made up his mind about whom he will pick to join the high court, the person said on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the ongoing deliberations.

That source, along with another person familiar with the negotiations, said the president gave strong indications that he prefers Kavanaugh.

Trump said on Sunday that he will announce his "final decision" at 9 p.m. ET on Monday. "An exceptional person will be chosen!" he exclaimed on Twitter.

Working ahead of midterms

Trump hopes to push his nominee through the confirmation process before midterm elections in November.

His pick to fill the seat of Justice Kennedy will help to define the court's path for decades to come.

Democrats have argued the Senate should wait to vote on another justice until after the elections, when the minority party has a chance to flip control of the chamber.

Two years ago, Republicans refused to hold confirmation hearings for President Barack Obama's nominee to the top court, Merrick Garland, until after Obama's term ended and his replacement could name a candidate instead.

—CNBC's Brian Schwartz and Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.