ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump has said that one week from today he'll announce his nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy. Trump says he spoke to some candidates this morning.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I interviewed and met with four potential justices of our great Supreme Court. They are outstanding people. They are really incredible people in so many different ways - academically and every other way.
SHAPIRO: His decision is likely to set off an epic political battle. And NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to break it down for us. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So where does the process stand right now?
LIASSON: As you heard the president say, he met with four potential candidates today. He said he's going to meet with two or three more. He is going to announce his nominee on Monday. This is a process that the first time around, when he nominated Neil Gorsuch to the court, he subcontracted out. He was brand-new president.
This time, the White House is handling this more in-house. The deputy press secretary, Raj Shah, has stepped down from his position to handle communications around this exclusively. It's also possible that the White House will do what it did last time and what White Houses have always done, which is assign a high-level person, an - a former senator, for instance, to escort the nominee around for their Senate meetings.
But for all of the chaos and confusion that often accompanies policy decisions of the Trump administration, this is the exception that proves the rule. This is where the White House really is a well-oiled machine. The Gorsuch nomination was handled by the book, very well-handled. And also, this is a real unifying moment for the Republican Party. Just as you were hearing Republicans grumbling about immigration or trade or the way President Trump talks about NATO, now all sins are forgiven for the moment...
LIASSON: ...Because Republicans are onboard. This is their moment to shape the court for a generation.
SHAPIRO: OK. You say Republicans are on board, but there are a couple of wild cards. Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, Maine senator Susan Collins, they support abortion rights. Here's what Collins said on CNN yesterday.
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SUSAN COLLINS: I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade because that would mean to me that their judicial philosophy did not include a respect for established decisions, established law.
SHAPIRO: Mara, interpret that for us. What does that mean?
LIASSON: (Laughter) Well, that's a really good question because earlier, Collins said - earlier, in another television interview yesterday, she said a candidate who would, quote, "overturn Roe v. Wade" would not be acceptable to her. Then she kind of made it a little more vague by saying they had to demonstrate hostility. Of course, they're not going to demonstrate hostility. They're not going to even answer any questions about it.
SHAPIRO: Right (laughter).
LIASSON: And Trump made it very clear in the campaign and again over the weekend that even though he won't ask any of his prospective candidates what they think about Roe v. Wade, that his nominee will mean that Roe v. Wade will be going back to the states. And Collins also said something that many Democrats found astounding.
She said she didn't believe that John Roberts or Neil Gorsuch would vote to overturn Roe because they care so much about precedent, even though both of them have voted against precedent many times. And that's why so many Democrats feel in the end Collins will be there for Trump, as she has been in the past on almost everything.
SHAPIRO: We're also seeing some people on the right downplay the idea that Kennedy's replacement would overturn - or that the new court would lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. What do you make of that?
LIASSON: I think that they understand they don't want to move so fast that there will be a backlash. They don't want to be too open about this possibility that a fifth conservative justice will undermine or overturn Roe because Roe is popular. Today, a Quinnipiac poll showed that even public opinion on abortion itself is still split. By a two-to-one margin, Americans say they agree with the 1973 decision. And that's why they're trying to say, even if Roe was overturned, it won't automatically be illegal. It'll just go back to the states. They don't want to further energize the left.
SHAPIRO: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.