SALT LAKE CITY — Orrin G. Hatch, the longest serving Republican senator in history who was part of Utah politics for more than four decades, has died at age 88.
His death on Saturday was announced in a statement from his foundation, which did not specify a cause.
A staunch conservative on most economic and social issues, he has also teamed up with Democrats many times over his long career on issues ranging from stem cell research to disability rights to expansion. children’s health insurance. He struck up friendships across the aisle, especially with the late Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
Hatch has championed GOP issues such as abortion limits and helped shape the U.S. Supreme Court, including defending Justice Clarence Thomas against sexual harassment allegations during confirmation hearings.
He then 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 US tax codes on the president’s desk. In return, Trump helped Hatch solve a key problem for Utah Republicans with a controversial decision to drastically reduce the size of two national monuments established by former presidents.
Hatch retired in 2019. Trump encouraged him to run again, but the longtime senator reportedly faced a tough primary and promised to retire. Hatch encouraged Republican Mitt Romney, a Trump critic, to run as his replacement.
“Few men have marked the Senate as he has,” Romney wrote in a tribute to his friend and predecessor, praising his “vision and legislative accomplishments.”
Former Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa released a statement recalling Hatch’s help in gaining conservative support for the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which Hatch would later rank among his most significant accomplishments.
“Orrin has always been a sympathetic conservative, and until the advent of the Trump administration, willing to work with liberals to find common ground and compromises,” Harkin said.
Utah Senator Mike Lee called Hatch “a friend, a mentor, and an example to me and countless others.”
Hatch was noted for a parallel career as a singer and recording artist 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 was elected to the United States Senate in 1976 and served seven terms to become the longest-serving senator in Utah history. He became acting Senate President in 2015 when Republicans took control of the Senate. This position placed him third in the presidential succession behind then-Vice President Joe Biden and the Speaker of the House. His tenure places him as the longest serving senator in the GOP, behind several Democrats.
One issue Hatch returned to during his career was whether to limit or ban abortion, a stance that placed him at the center of one of the nation’s most contentious issues. He was the author of a variety of proposed “Hatch Amendments” to the Constitution aimed at reducing the availability of abortions.
In 1991, he became one of Thomas’s most vocal defenders against law professor Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations. Hatch read aloud at confirmation hearings for “The Exorcist,” and he suggested that Hill stole details from the book.
Although unquestionably conservative, Hatch sometimes differed from fellow conservatives – including then-President George W. Bush when Hatch lobbied for federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
In 1997, Hatch joined Kennedy in sponsoring a $24 billion program for states to provide health insurance to children of low-income parents who do not qualify for Medicaid.
“He exemplified a generation of lawmakers high on the principles of comity and compromise, and he embodied those principles better than anyone,” Hatch Foundation President A. Scott Anderson said in a statement. “In a nation divided, Orrin Hatch showed us a better way.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, praised Hatch’s legislative acumen.
“Orrin’s decades of leadership have led to an endless catalog of major legislative achievements and historic confirmations,” McConnell said in a statement. “He entered the Senate as a principled young conservative in the 1970s, when the modern conservative movement was in its infancy. He stuck to his principles his entire career.
Hatch also helped pass legislation strengthening laws against child pornography and illegal downloading of music.
The music download problem was personal. A member of the faith widely known as Mormon, he frequently wrote religious songs and recorded music in his spare time in order to unwind from the stresses of life in Washington. Hatch earned around $39,000 in royalties from his songs in 2005.
One song, “Unspoken”, went platinum after appearing on “WOW Hits 2005”, a compilation of Christian pop music.
In 2000, Hatch sought the Republican presidential nomination, saying he had more experience in Washington than his opponents and could work with Democrats. Hatch acknowledged winning would be a long shot and pulled out of the race after getting just 1% of the vote in the Iowa caucuses. He endorsed George W. Bush.
He became a staunch opponent of President Barack Obama’s 2009 Health Care Act after he backed out of early bipartisan talks on the legislation. At one point he said of the bill, “It is 2,074 pages. It’s enough to make you vomit.
Hatch faced a tough re-election battle from a conservative candidate in 2012, two years after a wave of tea parties ousted longtime Republican Utah senator Bob Bennett . Bennett and Hatch both voted in favor of a bank bailout in 2008 that angered the far right.
Hatch contributed about $10 million to his 2012 run and worked to build support from Tea Party conservatives.
Hatch used to play tough – he learned to box as a boy in Pittsburgh to fend off attacks from older, taller students. Not afraid to fight, he said he always made it a point to quickly become friends with those he had a fight with.
When Hatch announced he wouldn’t be running again 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 of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – ran for his first public office in 1976 and narrowly upset the senator. Democrat Frank Moss.
In 1982, he held off challenger Ted Wilson, the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City, to win a second term by a solid margin.
It was never seriously challenged again.
Orrin Grant Hatch was born in 1934 in Pittsburgh to a carpenter and plasterer. 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 and Grigsby in that town until 1969. Later, he was a partner in Hatch & Plumb of Salt Lake City.
Her six children are Brent, Marcia, Scott, Kimberly, Alysa and Jess.
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