After the Robert Novak induced media feeding frenzy cum hysteria of this past Friday, where do we stand with the Supreme Court and William H. Rehnquist?

What I am hearing is that some people really do think Rehnquist retired or intended to retire on Friday. Others, as you can imagine, do not believe it. A friend of mine close to the White House tells me that though the White House had no notice of a retirement, they had a good enough idea of who Novak’s source was to believe it accurate. I’m also told that the White House has zipped up as many lips as possible regarding this discussion. Likewise, Novak today is silent on the issue.

My speculation is that Rehnquist has every intention of retiring, but it seems cannot find a convenient time to do so. First O’Connor retired. Then London was bombed. Then Dennis struck the South. Perhaps Christ will return next thereby permanently ending any ability or need to retire. But, I do know that people I trust very much at the Supreme Court, White House, and Senate all expected a Rehnquist resignation and still expect one. “It could come as soon as today, but after hearing Specter and others this weekend, God I hope not,” said a White House friend.

Interestingly, the Novak speculation did have one side benefit — it induced a few Republican Senators, including Arlen Specter, into revealing their cards. Arlen and several members of the Gang of 14 have bought into the notion that the White House, to play civilly, should exchange a O’Connor for a moderate and Rehnquist for a conservative. One Senate source tells me, “if O’Connor and Rehnquist do go at the same time, it will make it more difficult for the White House to push two conservatives at once. They could make it past the Democrats, but I don’t know that they could make it past some on our side.”

If Rehnquist’s retirement is announced before O’Connor’s replacement is confirmed, look for Gonzales to be back on the table.

Also, I’m told the White House has begun efforts to expand it’s list. Last week I reported on the names that are on the list. Over the weekend I was told the White House and third parties assisting in the effort are looking at other names. The White House fears that the Democrats and Democrat interest groups are digging fast and furiously into the backgrounds of several nominees and it just might pay to have a fall back nominee whose name has not been widely circulated.

Lastly, the Washington Post reports this morning something I think everyone concluded in the past week or two — the White House intends to delay announcing a nominee. In addition to building a list of alternate names, the White House wants to wait until the last possible moment before hearings begin to get a nominee’s name out there. The thinking is that the Dems will be unable to smear the person as badly as if the name were released now.

Says one friend familiar with the White House strategy, “The President intends to win. We all just hope Specter and the Senate Republicans intend to win too.”