Updated 5:15 p.m. | Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s endorsement of Donald Trump came only hours after the Republican presidential nominee had put his friend and colleague Utah Sen. Mike Lee on a list of potential Supreme Court picks.
And even though Lee had expressed disinterest in being included on Trump’s list Friday, the potential court pick was a central part of Cruz’s reasoning for changing gears and backing Trump.
In a Facebook post, Cruz said the Supreme Court hangs in the balance in the election. He said Lee “would make an extraordinary justice” and cited Trump’s “explicit commitment” to nominate only from “a very strong” list of 21 potential nominees.
“This commitment matters, and it provides a serious reason for voters to choose to support Trump,” Cruz wrote of the man who dubbed him “Lyin’ Ted” during the presidential primaries, and whom Cruz in May called “utterly amoral” and a “pathological liar.”
But Lee — who has ripped Trump for making intolerant statements on religion and accusing Cruz’s father of conspiring to kill John F. Kennedy — was quick to quash the idea Friday morning.
“Sen. Lee already has the job he wants which is why he is campaigning to represent the great people of Utah again this year,” Conn Carroll, a Lee spokesman, said in an email.
Carroll said Trump did not speak with Lee about putting him on the list, adding: “Sen. Lee has not endorsed Trump and has no plans to do so.”
Lee, in a written statement after Cruz's post, didn’t indicate that the Texas senator prompted any change in his position. Lee said he focuses on when a candidate for federal office has a “grasp of — and willingness to work tirelessly to restore — federalism and separation of powers.”
"I am always eager to support any candidate willing to make those structural constitutional protections a priority,” Lee said. “In this race and in every other, I will continue to use the same criteria.”
Cruz and Trump exchanged heated words on the campaign trail, particularly after Trump posted a photo insulting the appearance of Cruz’s wife, Heidi, that prompted Cruz to call Trump “a sniveling coward,” telling him to “leave Heidi the hell alone.” Cruz steadfastly refused to endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention in July.
Lee has conservative legal bona fides that would put him on many potential lists of court nominees by a Republican president. His father, Rex Lee, was a solicitor general during the Reagan administration. The senator sits on the Judiciary Committee, and remains a regular visitor to the Supreme Court and is eager to talk about constitutional law. He is on the November ballot in Utah for a second Senate term.
But Lee ripped Trump in a telephone interview in June for accusing the father of his best friend — Cruz — of conspiring to kill Kennedy. He also charged that Trump made statements intolerant toward religious minorities. Lee is a Mormon.
“We can go through the fact that he’s made statements that some have identified correctly as religiously intolerant,” Lee said on the Steve Malzberg Show on NewsMaxTV in June. “We can get into the fact that he’s wildly unpopular in my state, in part because my state consists of people who are members of a religious minority church.”
Also on Trump’s list of 10 names the campaign released Friday, first reported by NBC News, was Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady, a Republican member of the House from 1993 to 2001 who helped manage impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton.
The names released Friday get added to the list of 11 names Trump released as potential Supreme Court picks in July, which included Lee’s brother, Thomas Lee, a Utah Supreme Court justice.
Trump has repeatedly said in stump speeches that preventing liberal justices from being appointed to the Supreme Court is a reason for conservatives to vote for him.
“The Supreme Court justices that I told you about before, I mean, if they put certain people onto the Supreme Court, our country is going to be a whole different country,” Trump said Sept. 15 at The Economic Club of New York. “We're going to be a large-scale version of Venezuela. We're going to be a totally different deal.”