Orrin Hatch, Long-Serving Utah U.S. Senator, Dies at Age 88
SALT LAKE CITY — Orrin G. Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in history who was a fixture in Utah politics for more than four decades, has died at age 88.
He died Saturday in a statement released by his foundation. It did not give a cause of death.
A staunch conservative on most economic and social issues, he also teamed with Democrats several times during his long career on issues ranging from stem cell research to rights for people with disabilities to expanding children’s health insurance. He made friendships with both Democrats and Republicans, especially the late Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
Hatch championed GOP issues such as abortion limits. He also helped to shape the U.S. Supreme Court. This included defending Justice Clarence Thomas from sexual harassment claims during his 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 U.S. tax codes to the president’s desk. Hatch, in return for his help, delivered on a crucial issue to Republicans in Utah. Hatch made a contentious decision to reduce two of the national monuments that had been established by previous presidents.
Hatch resigned in 2019. Trump encouraged Hatch not to run, although the senator had previously promised to retire after he faced a hard primary. Hatch encouraged Republican Mitt, who is a Trump critic to run for his replacement.
“Few men have made their mark on the Senate as he did,” Romney wrote in a tribute to his friend and predecessor, praising his “vision and legislative accomplishment.”
Former Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa issued a statement recalling Hatch’s help in securing conservative support for the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which Hatch would later rank among his most important accomplishments.
“Orrin was always a likable conservative, and until the advent of the Trump administration, willing to work with liberals to find common ground and compromises,” Harkin said.
Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee called Hatch “a friend, a mentor and an example to me and countless others.”
Hatch’s side hustle as a singer/record artist featured themes from his religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Elaine, his wife and six of their children are still with him.
Hatch was first elected in 1976 to the U.S. Senate. He served seven terms, becoming the longest serving senator in Utah history. When the Senate was taken over by the Republicans in 2015, Hatch became Senate president pro-tempore. This position placed him in third place behind Joe Biden (the Vice President) and Speaker of the House. He is the longest-tenured GOP senator behind many Democrats.
One issue Hatch returned to over the course of his career was limiting or outlawing abortion, a position that put him at the center of one of the nation’s most controversial issues. He was the author of a variety of proposed “Hatch amendments” to the Constitution aimed at diminishing the availability of abortions.
In 1991, he became known as one of Thomas’s most vocal defenders against sexual harassment allegations from law professor Anita Hill. Hatch read aloud at the confirmation hearings from “The Exorcist,” and he suggested that Hill stole details from the book.
While unquestionably conservative, Hatch sometimes differed with 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 don’t qualify for Medicaid.
“He exemplified a generation of lawmakers brought up on the principles of comity and compromise, and he embodied those principles better than anyone,” Hatch Foundation chairman A. Scott Anderson said in a statement. “In a nation divided, Orrin Hatch helped show us a better way.”
Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, praised Hatch’s legislative acumen.
“Orrin’s decades of leadership drove an unending catalog of major legislative accomplishments and landmark confirmations,” McConnell said in a statement. “He entered the Senate as a young principled conservative in the 1970s when the modern conservative movement was in its infancy. He held to his principles his whole career.”
Hatch was also instrumental in the passage of legislation that strengthened laws against illegal downloading and child pornography.
This was my personal issue with the music-download problem. Mormonism was his faith. He wrote many religious songs in his free time and made music to help him relax from Washington’s stresses. In 2005, Hatch received about $39,000 in royalty payments from songs.
One song, “Unspoken,” went platinum after appearing on “WOW Hits 2005,” a compilation of Christian pop music.
Hatch was a Republican candidate for the nomination. Hatch claimed that he was better acquainted with Washington than his competitors and could cooperate well with Democrats. Hatch conceded that winning the election would not be possible and pulled out after receiving only 1% of votes in Iowa. He supported George W. Bush.
He became a strong opponent of President Barack Obama’s 2009 health care law after pulling out of early bipartisan talks on the legislation. At one point, he said of the legislation: “It is 2,074 pages long. It is enough to make you barf.”
Two years ago, longtime Utah Republican Senator Bob Bennett was swept out by a tea party wave and Hatch had to face a difficult re-election fight from a conservative candidate. Bennett and Hatch supported a 2008 bank bailout, which was opposed by the far-right.
Hatch invested approximately $10 million in his 2012 campaign and helped to gain support from tea party conservatives.
Hatch was used to playing tough — he learned to box as a child in Pittsburgh to fend off the attacks of older, larger students. He was not afraid to fight and said that he made it a priority to make friends quickly with anyone he disagreed with.
When Hatch announced he would not seek 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 narrowly upset Democratic Sen. Frank Moss.
He defeated Ted Wilson (Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City) to win his second term in 1982.
He wasn’t again seriously challenged.
Orrin Grant Hathch was born in Pittsburgh in 1934 to a plaster lather, and a carpenter. Elaine Hanson, his bride, was born in 1957. He graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in 1959. In 1962, he received his law degree at the University of Pittsburgh. He was also a partner in Thomson, Rhodes and Grigsby until 1969. Later, he was a partner in the Salt Lake City firm of Hatch & Plumb.
Brent, Marcia and Scott are his six children.
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