WASHINGTON – The two top Republicans in Congress explicitly endorsed Mitt Romney on Tuesday to be their party's presidential nominee, as party leaders continued consolidating around their all-but-inevitable candidate in hopes of quickly focusing attention on ousting President Barack Obama in this fall's election.
The public embraces offered by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came the same day that several House conservatives expressed support for the former Massachusetts governor, though some seemed more enthusiastic than others.
"If you're not sure about wanting to support Mitt Romney, whether you're liberal, whether you're very conservative, you ought to be excited because he's been on your side at one time or another," Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said during a forum that conservative lawmakers staged on Capitol Hill.
The statements of support by Boehner, R-Ohio, and McConnell, R-Ky., came a week after former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania ended his bid for the GOP nomination, in effect ceding the field to Romney.
Both leaders' remarks came in response to reporters' questions. Aides for each said there was no coordination between the two and that the timing simply reflected their return to Washington after Congress' two-week spring recess.
"I think Mitt Romney has a set of economic policies that can put Americans back to work and, frankly, contrast sharply with the failed economic policies of President Obama," Boehner told reporters. "And I will be proud to support Mitt Romney and do everything I can do help him win."
Hours later, it was McConnell's turn.
"Yeah, I support Gov. Romney for president of the United States, and he is going to be the nominee," he said. "And as you notice, the party is in the process of unifying behind him. And I think it's going to be an incredibly close, hard-fought race."
Boehner said he had not embraced Romney publicly before because as chairman of this August's Republican National Convention, he wanted to treat all the contenders fairly.
McConnell had previously said Romney would likely be the nominee and that the party needed to rally behind the probable nominee. Tuesday was the first time he specifically said he supported Romney.
At Tuesday's gathering of around a dozen House conservatives -- most of them were tea party-backed freshmen -- there was a pause of several seconds when a reporter asked whether they were excited over Romney. Many voiced support for him, but some seemed driven more by pragmatism than passion.
"We're excited about the opportunity to defeat Barack Obama more than anything," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a veteran leader of House conservatives.
"I'm excited about our candidate," said freshman Rep. Nick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who had backed Texas Gov. Rick Perry. "Face it, we got the best candidate we could out of the process" to defeat Obama.