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Washington • Sen. Mike Lee finds himself in a tough spot.
After all, three of his best friends a trio he has worked closely with in the Senate are eyeing the White House, and all three would love his support.
"You know, it's a tough thing any time you have three of your favorite co-workers who all decide to run for president at the same time," Lee said Friday. "It's the first time it's ever happened to me."
Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have announced their White House bids, and Sen. Marco Rubio is likely to do so this coming week.
Lee, a Utah Republican who has no Oval Office aspirations of his own, says he is trying to remain neutral so as not to alienate the small cadre of friends aligned with him on conservative causes.
But it does put him in a less-than-envious spot.
Take Friday's Christian Science Monitor breakfast, at which Lee appeared to pitch his new book, "Our Lost Constitution." There were a few questions about the new book, but several more surrounding the idea that his BFFs all want his endorsement something Lee isn't ready to give.
"I hope to be as supportive as I can of all three of them because I really genuinely like all three of them," Lee said. "For that reason, I'm not inclined to endorse either one of [the declared candidates] at this point, because I can't endorse one of them without sort of un-endorsing the others."
Lee and Cruz have been tied together since the Texas Republican joined the Senate in 2012. In fall 2013, the duo were behind the effort to kill funding for the Affordable Care Act that led to the 16-day government shutdown.
Near the end of Cruz's 21-hour speech on the Senate floor preceding the shutdown, he thanked a litany of supporters but carved out special appreciation of Lee.
"We wouldn't be here if it weren't for Senator Lee's principle, for his courage, for his bravery under fire," Cruz said. "I feel particularly honored to serve as his colleague and consider him a friend."
Cruz was the first to jump into what is expected to be a large GOP field seeking the party's nomination, and Lee noted that the Texas senator has a large loyal following.
"I like his passion and I like his dedication to his conservative principles and his willingness to fight even when it's hard," Lee said. "Some of those same characteristics have also been characterized by some as a weakness, as an Achilles' heel for him."
Paul, who came to the Senate at the same time as Lee, announced his bid earlier this week just as Lee was set to appear to push his book in a spate of television interviews. But the TV hosts all wanted to ask about Paul.
Lee said Friday that he "vividly" recalls Paul's 13-hour speech against the U.S. military's use of drones to target alleged terrorists, but noted that his Kentucky friend's take on foreign policy could be a good and bad thing for his candidacy.
Lee first heard Rubio speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference years ago. He called the Florida Republican a "natural athlete in political terms," and says that he's probably the best candidate at communicating, at bringing "grown men to tears" with emotional stories.
Rubio's baggage, Lee noted, was getting involved in a bipartisan group trying to fix immigration reform, an effort that stalled but still earned Rubio a rebuke from the right.
"There are those who are still critical of him for involvement in Gang of 8 on immigration," Lee said. "On the other hand, that was a few years ago and just one issue."
Lee was originally part of the bipartisan group but bailed out when he said he could not support any plan that would include an eventual pathway to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants.
The Utah Republican, who is up for re-election next year, said there was no chance he would join his buddies in running for the presidency.
"I'll be on the ballot in 2016 in exactly one state," Lee said. But, he added, he might be the only one left in the Senate who isn't looking to nab the ultimate political perch.
"We've got a pretty strong field of candidates so far, and it very well may continue to grow and at this point the more the merrier," Lee said.