SALT LAKE CITY ( Associated Press) — The longest-serving Republican Senator in history, Orrin G. Hatch, who was a fixture in Utah politics for more than four decades, died Saturday at the age of 88.
His death was announced in a statement from his foundation, which gave no reason.
A staunch conservative on most economic and social issues, he collaborated with Democrats several times during his long career on issues ranging from stem cell research to the rights of people with disabilities to expanding children’s health insurance. They also made friends across the aisle, most notably the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. with Kennedy.
Hatch also supported GOP issues such as abortion limits and helped shape the US Supreme Court, including defending Justice Clarence Thomas against allegations of sexual assault during confirmation hearings.
He later became an ally of Republican President Donald Trump, using his role as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee to get a major rewrite of the US tax code on the president’s desk. In return, Trump helped deliver the hatch on a key issue for Republicans in Utah, with a controversial move to drastically reduce the two national monuments declared by previous presidents.
Hatch retired in 2019. Had Trump encouraged him to run again, the longtime senator would have faced an uphill primary battle and had promised to retire. Instead Hatch stepped aside and encouraged Republican Mitt Romney, a critic of the former president, to run to replace him.
“Some people have made their mark on the Senate,” Romney wrote in tribute to his friend and predecessor, praising his “vision and legislative achievement”. Utah Sen. Mike Lee, for his part, called Hatch “a friend, a mentor and an example to me and countless others.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, praised Hatch’s legislative prowess.
“Orrin’s decades of leadership produced an endless list of major legislative achievements and historic confirmations,” McConnell said in a statement. “He entered the Senate as a young princely conservative in the 1970s, when the modern conservative movement was in its infancy. He has kept his principles throughout his career, and he has been recognized for the historic 2017 Tax Reform Law and Judiciary Committee work. so as to work for the wider benefit of our country.
Hatch was also known for his side career as a singer and recording artist of music with themes from his religious faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He is survived by his wife Elaine and their six children.
Hatch came to the Senate after his 1976 election victory and won a seventh term in 2012, becoming the longest-serving senator in Utah history. He became president pro tempore of the Senate in 2015 when Republicans took control of the Senate. The position made him third in the line of presidential succession after then-Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House. His tenure places him behind many Democrats as the longest-serving GOP senator.
One issue Hatch had during her career was whether abortion was limited or outlawed, a situation that placed her at the center of one of the country’s most controversial issues. He was the author of a variety of “Hatch Amendments” to the Constitution aimed at reducing the availability of abortion.
In 1991, he became known as one of Thomas’ most vocal defenders against allegations of sexual assault by law professor Anita Hill. Hatch read aloud from “The Exorcist” at the confirmation hearing and he suggests that Hill stole the details from the book.
While undeniably conservative, Hatch at times differed from many of his conservative colleagues—including then-President George W. Bush, when Hatch pushed for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
In 1997, Hatch joined Kennedy in sponsoring a $24 billion program for states to provide health insurance to the children of low-income parents who do not qualify for Medicaid.
Hatch Foundation President A. Scott Anderson said in a statement, “He exemplified a generation of lawmakers who were brought up on principles of camaraderie and compromise, and they embraced those principles better than anyone.” “In a divided nation, Orrin Hatch helped lead us down a better path by forging meaningful friendships on both sides of the aisle. Today, more than ever, we would do well to follow his example.”
Hatch also helped legislate to toughen child pornography laws and make illegal downloading of music a prosecutable offense.
For Hatch, the issue of music-downloads was personal. A member of the faith widely known as Mormon, he often wrote religious songs and recorded music in his spare time as a way to relax from the stress of life in Washington. Hatch earned about $39,000 in royalties from his songs in 2005.
One of his songs, “Unspoken”, went platinum after appearing on the Christian pop music compilation “Wow Hits 2005”.
In 2000, Hatch sought the Republican nomination for president, saying he had more experience in Washington than his opponents and could work with Democrats. Hatch readily admitted that winning would be a long shot. He withdrew from the race after winning only 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucus and then endorsed George W. Bush.
He became a strong opponent of President Barack Obama’s 2009 health care legislation after withdrawing from initial bipartisan talks on the law. At one point, he said of the law: “It’s 2,074 pages long. That’s enough to make you snow.”
Hatch faced an uphill election battle from a conservative candidate in 2012, two years after a Tea Party wave ousted longtime Utah Republican Senator Bob Bennett from office. Bennett and Hatch both voted in favor of the 2008 bank bailout, which kept those far away.
Hatch invested about $10 million in his 2012 race and worked to build support among Tea Party conservatives.
Hatch had a habit of playing hard—he learned to box as a kid in Pittsburgh to fend off attacks from bigger, bigger students. Not afraid to fight, he said that he always made it a point to quickly become friends with people he had arguments with.
When Hatch announced he would not run for re-election in 2018, he said “every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves.”
After moving to Utah in the early 1970s, Hatch — a former bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — ran for his first public office in 1976 and greatly upset Democratic Sen. Frank Moss.
In 1982, he challenged the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City, Ted Wilson, to win a second term by a solid margin.
He was never seriously challenged again.
Orrin Grant Hatch was born in 1934 in Pittsburgh to a carpenter and plasterer foam. He married Elaine Hanson in 1957 and graduated from Brigham Young University in 1959. He received a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1962 and was a partner in the law firm of Thomson, Rhodes & Grigsby in that city until 1969. Later, he was a partner in the Salt Lake City firm of Hatch & Plumb.
They have six children Brent, Marcia, Scott, Kimberly, Alyssa and Jess.