Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a leading critic of President Trump, hopes Mitt Romney will take on that role next year

(J. Scott Applewhite | AP file photo) Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., arrives for a procedural vote as the Senate moves to pass legislation that would roll back some of the safeguards Congress put into place after a financial crisis rocked the nation's economy ten years ago, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 6, 2018.

Washington • Sen. Jeff Flake, who has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, says that when he leaves office he hopes that Mitt Romney, who is running for the Senate from Utah, will pick up where he left off to ensure a conservative voice pushes back on the administration.

Flake, an Arizona Republican who is not running for re-election and hasn’t ruled out a primary challenge to Trump in 2020, said that Romney supports free trade and immigration reform and wouldn’t shy away from calling out the White House.

We need Mitt Romney in the Senate,” Flake told the National Press Club on Thursday. “We need an independent voice, somebody who will enter the Senate chamber with some immediate gravitas and someone who will work across the aisle and actually, I think, create a whole new power center in the Senate. I think that’s desperately needed.”

Flake said he worries that Republicans are giving a free pass to Trump when they should be concerned with his words and actions that fly in the face of GOP values. The Arizona senator has been sharply critical of Trump, noting in a famous Senate speech that, “we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue, with the tone set at the top.”

Asked Thursday if he would run for the presidency, Flake jokingly responded, “Next question.”

He did note that a White House bid isn’t in his plans but he’s “not ruling anything out.”

Flake also said that he wished Republicans would have paid attention to the “autopsy” report the party compiled after Romney’s 2012 presidential loss, a list of recommendations that urged the party to create a bigger tent and be a more inclusive party.

We paid attention to that for about two months,” Flake said.

The senator, who shares the Mormon faith with Romney, also said that his religious beliefs did play a part in his speaking out about Trump.

Anyone who professes to be religious knows that it influences their actions,” Flake said, noting he felt a responsibility to challenge Trump and that he would have loved to serve another term but not “at the cost of endorsing the president’s actions or behavior.”

Flake said that if his party lets Trump continue as he has for more than a year in office, “my party may not deserve to lead.”

But, he added, “We will get through this. … How refreshing it will be again to know where the buck stops.”