MIAMI — Utah Sen. Mike Lee endorsed Ted Cruz for president on Thursday afternoon.
"It's time, my fellow Americans, to expect more. It's time to expect freedom," Lee said at the University of Miami. "It's time to elect Ted Cruz as the next president of the United States."
Two sources told BuzzFeed News earlier on Thursday of Lee's plans to endorse Cruz.
The Lee endorsement comes on the heels of Carly Fiorina's unexpected endorsement of Cruz on Wednesday. Both of these endorsements were rolled out in Miami, the home turf of Cruz's rival Marco Rubio, whose campaign is struggling ahead of the Florida primary where he is trailing Donald Trump.
Lee was one of five senators — three of whom are running for president — not to vote on a Senate bill about heroin treatment on Thursday morning in Washington.
Lee, a Tea Party stalwart and former Constitutional lawyer, was Cruz's top Senate ally in the 2013 effort to defund Obamacare, which resulted in a 16-day government shutdown. The episode turned Cruz into a right-wing rock star, but it also earned him many Republican enemies on Capitol Hill, and until now he hadn't received the endorsement of a single Senate colleague. Lee is the first sitting senator to formally back Cruz's candidacy.
Lee opted to stay on the sidelines for most of the 2016 primary race, which has featured three candidates whom he considers to be his closest friends in the Senate: Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio.
Rubio is polling well in Lee's home state of Utah, and his campaign had hoped to score the senator's endorsement.
Speaking to reporters at the University of Miami on Wednesday afternoon, Lee said he was "sending the signal that it’s time to unite" behind Cruz. He nudged Rubio to get out of the race, saying "If Sen. Rubio were asking me that, I would encourage him, and I do encourage him to get behind Ted Cruz." Lee said he had spoken with Rubio before endorsing Cruz, but didn't share details of the conversation, saying it was private.
The Cruz campaign declined to comment.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.
Contact Rosie Gray at email@example.com.
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