By Phil Mattingly, CNN
(CNN)Here we go.
President Donald Trump will announce his Supreme Court nominee at 9 p.m. As of this moment, nobody on Capitol Hill knows the selection, according to several senior aides (which, of course, makes sense given the President himself said he hadn’t finalized the selection as of Sunday evening).
Every Senate Republican who wanted to provide their opinion or lobby for a candidate has had an opportunity to do so (and most have taken that opportunity, aides say). Invites have gone out to senators to attend the White House announcement, two aides tell CNN.
But once the selection is made, all that matters is the roughly eight- or nine-week countdown to a vote on the Senate floor.
Bottom line: The coming days will be all about deep dives into the record of Trump’s selection, but also an intensive outside game by affiliated groups in both parties to lock in the contours of what will be a vicious fight. Monday night’s announcement may be in prime time, but it will serve solely as a brightly lit, nationally televised precursor to the real battle ahead.
Millions of dollars will be spent by both sides. Thousands of pages of documents — ranging from details on cases and authored legal articles to public comments, education experience, past work in previous administrations or on Capitol Hill — will be pored over by congressional staff, outside groups and reporters as the days move toward the confirmation hearing. The pressure on a select group of senators will be extreme. The outcome will have an effect not just in November, but far more importantly, on the highest court in the land for quite possibly decades to come.
What’s ahead, in a quote:
“We’re prepared for an all-out war,” one GOP operative planning to work on the confirmation effort put it to me. “The full machinery of the Republican Party is going to kick into high gear. And I have no doubt the other side will deploy the same.”
What to watch for on Capitol Hill:
Initial reactions will be important, but the key senators in play won’t tip their hands until they have ample time to study the pick, multiple aides say.
That means close attention should be paid to the team assembled by the White House — who the pick’s “Sherpa” will be on the Hill, how initial meetings are set up, with who and when, etc.
As a guide, just go back to 2017. Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a well-liked member of the chamber who was defeated the previous November, served as Gorsuch’s Sherpa, and the outside and inside team’s responsible for shepherding the nomination were given high marks by Republicans.
“Can’t go wrong replicating what they did with Gorsuch,” one GOP aide said when asked how the White House should handle this nomination.
But — and this is important:
This isn’t the Gorsuch nomination. Gorsuch was replacing a conservative justice. This nominee would replace a swing vote — and tilt the court toward conservatives for years to come.
A numbers reminder:
This state of play still stands and this is your best guide.