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

Updated 2 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: Ex-FDA chief: Pence campaigning after COVID exposure puts others at risk — Mark Meadows: "We are not going to control the pandemic"
  2. Health: 13 states set single-day coronavirus case records last week — U.S. reports over 80,000 new cases for second consecutive day.
  3. World: Australian city Melbourne to exit one of world's longest lockdowns — In photos: Coronavirus restrictions grow across Europe
  4. Media: Fox News president and several hosts advised to quarantine after possible COVID-19 exposure
  5. Nonprofit: Rockefeller Foundation commits $1 billion for COVID-19 recovery
Updated 7 mins ago - World

In photos: Coronavirus restrictions grow across Europe

A skeleton is placed at a restaurant table in Rome to protest Italy's restrictions that'll see gyms, movie theaters and pools close and bars and restaurants required to shut by 6 p.m. until at least Nov. 24. Photo: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Restrictions are returning across much of Europe as the continent faces a second coronavirus wave.

The big picture: Spain and France each surpassed 1 million cases last week, and both countries have implemented further restrictions on citizens. Italian officials announced strict new measures, effective Monday, to combat another cases spike. From Denmark to Romania, take a look at what steps countries have been taking, in photos.

Updated 1 hour ago - Science

Tropical Storm Zeta may strengthen into hurricane before reaching U.S.

The U.S. Gulf Coast and Mexico are bracing for another possible hurricane after Tropical Storm Zeta formed in the Caribbean Sea Sunday.

Of note: Zeta is the 27th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season — equaling a record set in 2005.