Sen. Mike Lee traveled to Sen. Marco Rubio's home turf in Miami on Thursday with a message for Republicans: It's time for conservatives to come together behind fellow Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for president.
And for Rubio to step aside.
The Utah Republican was absent from Senate business to deliver a key endorsement to Cruz ahead of a CNN debate leading up to a winner-take-all primary next Tuesday in the Sunshine State. With the move, Lee became the first sitting senator to endorse Cruz.
"I'm sending the signal that it's time to unite," Lee said when asked about the timing of his endorsement of Cruz. "The time has finally come, the time is finally at hand when we as Republicans need to unite behind one leader."
Lee had previously appeared on the campaign trail with both Cruz and Rubio, a fellow senator and Republican from Florida. While Cruz and Lee are close friends, the Utah senator has also worked with Rubio, notably on developing a proposal to overhaul the tax code .
"I do encourage him to get behind Ted Cruz," Lee said during a news conference in Miami.
Lee, who is the chairman of the conservative Senate Steering Committee that organizes Wednesday lunch meetings attended by Republican senators, said he and his colleagues talk frequently about the state of the presidential race, hinting that there may be further endorsements from members of the Senate coming for Cruz.
"This has been an ongoing process. This is, I don't want to say a parlor game, but this is a frequent topic of conversation among Republican senators," Lee said. "We talk about where the presidential election is going."
Cruz has already hinted about the possibility of Lee being a candidate to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court that was created by the death of Antonin Scalia last month.
"I think Mike would look pretty good in a robe," Cruz said in South Carolina on Feb 18, when Lee was making appearances with both he and Rubio.
Republican senators who have supported Rubio's candidacy have hinted in recent days that it will be time to evaluate the Florida senator's place in the race after the his home state primary, where his campaign has insisted that he can beat businessman Donald Trump and claim 99 delegates along the way.
But Lee is among those who believe that there is only one viable alternative to stopping Trump from claiming the nomination, which has caused Lee to pick one of his Senate GOP colleagues over the other before the polls open in Florida.
Lee said of Cruz, "He is the only Republican candidate who can defeat Donald Trump and who can defeat Hillary Clinton, and I believe he will."
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