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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

As he was deliberating last year over replacing Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, President Trump told confidants he had big plans for Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

"I'm saving her for Ginsburg," Trump said of Barrett, according to three sources familiar with the president's private comments. Trump used that exact line with a number of people, including in a private conversation with an adviser two days before announcing Brett Kavanaugh's nomination.

Barrett is a favorite among conservative activists, many of whom wanted her to take Kennedy’s spot.

  • She's young and proudly embraces her Catholic faith.
  • Her past academic writings suggest an openness to overturning Roe v. Wade.
  • Her nomination would throw gas on the culture-war fires, which Trump relishes.

But Trump chose to wait.

  • Some Trump advisers worried Barrett's staunch opposition to abortion rights would lose the votes of Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). But there wasn't consensus; some advisers argued they would ultimately "do the right thing" and vote for Barrett.
  • Trump came to doubt that "the women" (his shorthand for Collins and Murkowski) would support Barrett, according to sources who discussed the situation with Trump at the time.
  • Some of Trump's aides also felt confident about picking up more Senate seats in the 2018 midterms (which they did), meaning a more conservative pick might stand a better chance later.

Yes, but: There's no guarantee Trump will get another Supreme Court pick. It's very unlikely Ginsburg will retire while he’s in office. And though she's 86 and has had 3 bouts with cancer, she's on the bench now and appears healthy.

  • Barrett isn't a lock even if Trump does get to make another appointment, the people familiar with his thinking said.
  • Barrett has the inside track "in a very specific sense," said a source who's discussed Barrett with Trump. "She is the most known quantity right now amongst the women on the list. ... And she also has the inside track in the sense that she was kind of battle-tested for having gone through a confirmation already."

Between the lines: Trump changes his mind all the time, and Barrett would need to undergo a fresh round of vetting to review the rulings and public comments she's made since confirmed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017.

  • "The Supreme Court judicial selection process with the president is a very fluid one," said a source familiar with Trump's thinking on the subject. "He floats in and out of these discussions over a period of time."

Barrett's education didn't appeal to Trump, according to sources familiar with his thinking. She went to law school at Notre Dame, and Trump prefers candidates with Harvard and Yale on their resumes.

Why it matters: Trump has already pulled the court well to the right. If he gets to replace Ginsburg, especially with Barrett, he would cement a young, reliably conservative majority that could last for decades.

Go deeper

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations were "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 6 hours ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand, which were later lifted.

6 hours ago - World

North Korea launches 4th suspected missile test this month

A news broadcast in Seoul, South Korea, of an apparent North Korean missile test on Monday morning local time. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired "two suspected short-range ballistic missiles" eastward from Pyongyang on Monday morning local time, per South Korean and Japanese officials.

Why it matters: The fourth such launch since Jan. 5 comes days after North Korea's military warned of "stronger" action if the U.S. moved to have more sanctions imposed on the country.