WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Sunday hammered away at his closest challenger's eligibility to be US president, while the party's Senate leader said the chamber will stay out of the fray involving Ted Cruz's citizenship.
Under the Constitution, presidents must be "natural born citizens." Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta, but his mother was a US citizen, which he says makes him eligible to run.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told ABC's "This Week" that the Senate would not act to formally counter Trump's claim that the senator's Canadian birth makes him ineligible to be president. Cruz's father was born in Cuba.
In 2008, the Senate passed a resolution declaring Senator John McCain, a Republican presidential candidate, a natural born citizen. McCain was born to American parents on a US military base in the Panama Canal Zone.
"I just don't think the Senate ought to get into the middle of this," McConnell said. "These guys are all slugging it out in Iowa and New Hampshire. We'll have a nominee, hopefully, by sometime in the spring." The winner will face the Democrats' nominee in the November general election.
As Cruz took the lead in Iowa opinion polls heading into its Feb 1 caucuses - the first primary contest in the nation -Trump's glare followed. The billionaire businessman highlighted the citizenship issue last week, warning that Democrats could challenge Cruz's eligibility in court.
Asked on "Fox News Sunday" whether he really doubted Cruz was a natural born citizen, Trump said, "I don't know. I really don't know. It depends.
"Does natural born mean born to the land, meaning born on the land? In that case, he's not." Trump said the term has not been adjudicated, and advised Cruz to seek a judgment.
"The Democrats are going to bring a lawsuit," Trump predicted. "He's got to have this thing worked out."
Another one of Cruz's Republican campaign rivals, Senator Rand Paul, said on Sunday it was unclear if Cruz met the test of being a natural born citizen. "I think the Democrats will challenge it at the very least and I think it will have to be decided by the Supreme Court," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Cruz said he does not intend to engage with Trump.
But the attacks, he said, are telling. "Three weeks ago, almost every Republican candidate was attacking Donald Trump," Cruz told CNN's "State of the Union."
"Today almost every Republican candidate is attacking me. And that kinda suggests something has changed in the race."