SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee hasn't endorsed Donald Trump, but that didn't stop the GOP presidential candidate from touting him as a possible U.S. Supreme Court nominee.
And with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz now getting behind Trump — partly because his close friend Lee is on the billionaire businessman's latest list — there could be more pressure on the Utah Republican to fall in line.
The Trump campaign released a list of 10 potential high court nominees Friday that includes Lee. But the freshman senator didn't express much immediate interest in the job.
"The Supreme Court is very important, and I appreciate being considered. Right now I'm focused on my job in the Senate, where I'm in a good position to defend the Constitution by fighting against government overreach," he told the Deseret News in a statement.
"Both lists that I've seen from the Trump campaign are fantastic," he added. "While my brother and I might disagree as to which list is better, they're both great."
In May, Lee's brother, Utah Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Tom Lee, was among 11 names Trump circulated as potential replacements for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Trump has said he wants to appoint judges in the mold of the deeply conservative Scalia, who died in February.
While Sen. Lee applauds Trump's potential Supreme Court nominees, he has said he can't endorse the GOP presidential candidate because he has yet to see him embrace federalism and the separation of powers.
Cruz, a former GOP presidential candidate, said Friday that he will vote for Trump, citing Trump's possible high court nominees among his reasons.
"For some time, I have been seeking greater specificity on this issue, and today the Trump campaign provided that, releasing a very strong list of potential Supreme Court nominees — including Sen. Mike Lee, who would make an extraordinary justice — and making an explicit commitment to nominate only from that list," Cruz posted on Facebook.
Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and moderator of "Meet the Press," called Trump's list a "ham-handed" effort to win support from Lee and Cruz, and that it's really about winning over skeptical conservatives that the two senators have spoken on behalf of the past few months.
"I think this was about one more final effort by Trump to reach out to this core group of conservatives who have struggled to rally around his candidacy," he told KSL-TV.
Whether it brings Lee around to Trump remains to be seen.
Todd called the Utah senator a "pretty principled guy" who doesn't change his mind easily. But his loyalty to the party and the conservative movement, and how much he cares about the Supreme Court, along with Cruz's endorsement, will have an impact on Lee, he said.
"Does it push him all the way? I don't know," Todd said. But, he said, he could see Lee saying he would vote for Trump but not endorse him.
Independent presidential candidate and Utah native Evan McMullin on Twitter called Cruz's endorsement of Trump a "shocking abandonment of principle."
Lee, who earned a law degree at BYU, is running for a second term in the Senate against Democratic challenger Misty Snow. Prior to being elected to office, the senator clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who was a circuit court judge at the time.
Tom Lee graduated from the University of Chicago Law School and served as a law clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas.
The Lee brothers' father, Rex E. Lee, served as U.S. solicitor general in the Reagan administration.
Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court, is still waiting to be confirmed. The Republican-controlled Senate has steadfastly refused to hold a confirmation hearing.
Others on Trump's latest list are Neil Gorsuch, a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge; Margaret Ryan, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces judge; Iowa Supreme Court Justice Edward Mansfield; Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell; Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady; Timothy Tymkovich, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals chief judge; Amul Thapar, a U.S. District Court judge in Kentucky; Frederico Moreno, U.S. District Court judge in Florida; and Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young.