RIP, Orrin Hatch, 88: Longest Serving Republican in US Senate History
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, died Saturday at age 88.
His death was announced in a statement from his foundation, which did not specify a cause.
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 also formed friendships across the aisle, particularly with the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
Hatch also championed GOP issues like abortion limits and helped shape the U.S. Supreme Court, including defending Justice Clarence Thomas against sexual harassment allegations during confirmation hearings.
Teamed With Trump on Tax Reform
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 U.S. tax codes to the president’s desk. In return, Trump helped Hatch deliver on a key issue for Republicans in Utah with a contentious move to drastically downsize two national monuments that had been declared by past presidents.
Hatch retired in 2019. Through Trump had encouraged him to run again, the longtime senator would have faced a tough primary battle and had promised to retire. Hatch instead stepped aside and encouraged Republican Mitt Romney, a critic of the former president, to run to replace him.
“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.” Utah’s 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 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, and applied them to issues like the historic 2017 tax reform law and the work of the Judiciary Committee to the enormous benefit of our country.”
Hatch was also noted for his side career as a singer and recording artist of music with themes of his religious faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He is survived by his wife, Elaine, and their six children.
Hatch Tried To Outlaw Abortion
Hatch came to the Senate after a 1976 election win and went on to become the longest-serving senator in Utah history, winning a seventh term in 2012. He became the Senate president pro tempore in 2015 when Republicans took control of the Senate. The position made him third in the line of presidential succession behind then-Vice President Joe Biden and the Speaker of the House. His tenure places him as the longest GOP senator, behind several 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 “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, there were times Hatch differed from many of his conservative colleagues — including then-President George W. Bush when Hatch pushed for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.