In a move that shocked many Republican leaders in the state, Sen. Mike Lee endorsed the Republican opponent of his congressional colleague Rep. Celeste Maloy on Thursday.

The surprise announcement in favor of 2nd Congressional District candidate Colby Jenkins came just two days before the state GOP nominating convention and follows a vote by Maloy on legislation Lee opposed.

Maloy responded to Lee putting his thumb on the scale for her challenger in an exclusive statement given to the Deseret News:

“President Trump called me last week — because that’s what he does when two of his cabinet-level advisors endorse someone — and he asked me how I like being in Congress. And I told him, ‘I’ll be honest with you, Mr. President, I like the job, but I’m sick and tired of Republicans losing because we fight each other harder than we fight the Democrats.’ And he laughed and told me I was right, and said he’s sick of it, too. And this is a prime example of why Republicans keep losing. When we agree on principle, but disagree on tactics, we go out and try to harm each other instead of trying to bring home wins for our constituents.”

In an interview with the Deseret News, Jenkins said he did not “personally speak with Sen. Lee before this discussion started, before this became an opportunity, but some of his staff, and people who support Sen. Lee asked me how I would vote, and what were my positions, and I’m confident those got back to him. And that led him to say, ‘hey, I should learn more.’ And then that led to several intense conversations and interviews, question and answer kind of from Sen. Lee. And that’s what led to last night.”

Maloy, who had previously introduced public lands legislation with Lee, voted in favor of a FISA 702 amendment that Lee supported requiring a warrant for intelligence agencies to access American’s private information. But after the amendment failed in the House, Maloy voted for the bill’s reauthorization without the warrant provision.

“I implore all House members to vote ‘no,’ and take a stand for the Fourth Amendment,” Lee posted on April 14 before a House vote that would have allowed representatives to vote on the warrant provision again. “(Rep. Maloy), it’s not too late to join us! It’s not every day when someone gets a legislative ‘do over!’”

On her vote, Maloy said, “The federal government shouldn’t have any more authority to spy on American citizens. Today, I voted in support of a FISA reform bill that includes increased civil and criminal penalties for violating Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights. Holding agents accountable for abusing Americans is a top priority for me. I am disappointed that certain amendments didn’t make it into the final bill, but I’ll work with my Senate colleagues to secure even more safeguards,” she said in a statement.

Two weeks later, Lee weighed into Maloy’s Utah congressional race against the incumbent congresswoman with a statement and lending his face and name to Jenkin’s campaign advertising to delegates ahead of the April 27 convention.

“Too many Republicans in Congress have voted to expand the size, scope, and cost of the federal government, in many cases deferring to congressional GOP leaders bent on advancing the Democrats’ agenda. Now more than ever we need bold conservatives in Congress,” Lee said.

Jenkins, a former U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret colonel and combat veteran, said he was challenging Maloy in mid-January.

The St. George resident serves as the director of tech integration for Crown Castle, a national telecommunications company. In the past, he worked with Congress as a Green Beret liaison, at the Pentagon as a counterterrorism policy adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and at George Washington University as a professor.

Jenkins told the Deseret News he “swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic” 25 years ago. He said he wants “to provide a positive contrast in leadership, judgment and accountability for the voters of Utah’s 2nd District.”

Maloy was elected to represent Utah’s 2nd Congressional District in November 2023 after she won at a June special nominating convention. Maloy, who previously worked as former Rep. Chris Stewart’s chief legal counsel and was endorsed by him, took her old boss’s office in mid-November after winning a primary and general election.

Jenkins, who was a delegate at the June 2023 special convention, told the Deseret News he voted for Maloy in the final round of voting at the convention, but said he decided to run after hearing she hadn’t voted in recent elections.

Maloy, who grew up in a working class household on the Nevada side of the Utah border, then went to Southern Utah University on a scholarship, before attending law school at Brigham Young University, expressed surprise and gratitude when she was sworn in in November.

“I understand what a great honor and what a rare privilege it is to be standing here on the House floor right now giving a speech,” she said that day. “So thank you.”

In an interview with the Deseret News in November, Maloy said, “I want Congress to feel accessible to people. I’ve been on the other end of this where it felt like Congress was a distant entity, was not responsive, and I’m doing my best right now to pull back the curtains and let people see as much of how this works as possible so that they feel like they’re part of the process.”

During her six months in office, Maloy has introduced legislation to transfer some federal lands to Utah and voted against further military aid to Ukraine.

Maloy chose not to gather signatures to qualify for the primary ballot in her first reelection attempt. Her electoral future depends on state delegates, some of whom were the same that got her elected last year.

Lee may endorse additional candidates before or at the state convention. Two days before Jenkins announced he had Lee’s backing, the senator posted a criticism of fellow Republicans that was similar to his statement criticizing Maloy.