President Donald Trump said on Monday he wants U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah to run for re-election, a move that puts Trump on a collision course with Republican rival Mitt Romney, who wants to run for Hatch's seat.
Hatch, 83, has made noises about retiring from the Senate seat he has held since 1977 and Republican officials say Romney, a Utah resident who was the Republican 2012 presidential nominee, has been preparing to run for Hatch's seat next year.
But Trump, who has clashed with Romney in the past, said he wants Hatch to run for re-election.
"You are a true fighter, Orrin, I have to say," Trump said at an event in Salt Lake City. "We hope you will continue to serve your state and your country in the Senate for a very long time to come."
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts who spends a great deal of time in Utah, has been expecting to run for Hatch's seat in a state that Republicans typically win.
Trump considered picking Romney as his secretary of state a year ago but opted instead for Rex Tillerson. In August, Romney demanded Trump apologize for saying both sides were to blame for violence at a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump did not apologize.
Trump demurred when asked whether he was trying to send Romney a message by encouraging Hatch to run again.
"He's a good man. Mitt's a good man," Trump said.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)