Election 2020

Orrin Hatch Retiring, Setting Senate Stage for Mitt Romney

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) walks with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at Salt Lake International Airport on June 8, 2012, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

WASHINGTON — Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), at 83 years old, has decided it’s time to retire despite President Trump making clear at a December event that he wanted Hatch to stay in the Senate “for a very long time to come.”

Trump’s enthusiasm to see Hatch run for an eighth term — the Utah lawmaker assumed office in 1977 — may have had to do with the guy who may be interested in Hatch’s job: Mitt Romney.

“When the president visited Utah last month, he said I was a fighter. I’ve always been a fighter. I was an amateur boxer in my youth, and I brought that fighting spirit with me to Washington,” Hatch said in a video statement. “But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching.”

Hatch was ripped by hometown paper The Salt Lake Tribune in a Christmas Day editorial slamming his “utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power,” saying of tax reform that “perhaps the most significant move of Hatch’s career is the one that should, if there is any justice, end it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) today praised “Orrin’s long list of accomplishments” that will make the senator “one of the most productive members ever to serve in this body.”

“But even more than what Orrin did, his friends and colleagues here will remember how he did it. We’ll remember the unfailing energy, kindness, and straightforward honesty that he brought to work every day,” McConnell added. “The Senate will miss his talent, his productivity, and his wisdom. And I will miss my good friend. But I know well that our loss will be a happy gain for Orrin’s beloved wife Elaine, their six children, and all their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

“We are fortunate to have Senator Hatch on hand for another year,” he added. “The Senate has a great deal to tackle in 2018. The people of Utah—and all Americans—will continue to benefit greatly from Orrin’s famous work ethic and unrivaled experience in the year ahead.”

Trump tweeted congratulations to Hatch “on an absolutely incredible career.”

“He has been a tremendous supporter, and I will never forget the (beyond kind) statements he has made about me as President,” he added.

Romney said in a statement on his Facebook page that as the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, Hatch “has represented the interests of Utah with distinction and honor.”

The former Massachusetts governor, now a full-time Utah resident, has a 69 percent approval rating there with just 22 percent disapproval. Romney is liked by 81 percent of Utah Republicans and by half of the state’s Democrats, according to November polling. Sixty-one percent of independents like him.

Trump won 45.5 percent of the vote in Utah in November 2016, compared to 27.5 percent for Hillary Clinton and 21.5 percent for independent candidate Evan McMullin.

Before the Senate special election in Alabama, Romney tweeted against the candidate backed by Trump: “Roy Moore in the US Senate would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation. Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.”

He tweeted in November, “Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside.”