SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Orrin G. Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in history and an integral part of Utah’s policy for more than four decades, has died at the age of 88.
The retirement of the retired senator on Saturday was announced in a statement from his foundation, which did not specify a cause.
He was a staunch conservative on most economic and social issues, and he also teamed up with Democrats several times during his long career on topics ranging from stem cell research to the rights of people with disabilities to expanding children’s health insurance. He formed friendships across the hall, especially with the late Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
President Joe Biden, whose service in Hatch in the Senate for three decades, on Sunday described the Republican lawmaker as a fighter for the issues he believed in, but with a softer side, including writing songs and poems he shared with friends.
“To serve with Orrin, as I did for over three decades, was to see – and appreciate – both,” Biden said in a statement. “I saw the energetic, sharp-edged Orrin in the many struggles we had over tax policy, the workers’ right to join a union, and many others.”
Hatch advocated for GOP issues such as abortion limits and helped shape the U.S. Supreme Court, including defending Judge Clarence Thomas against allegations of sexual harassment during confirmation hearings.
He later became an ally of Republican President Donald Trump, and used his role as chairman of the Senate’s powerful finance committee to get a major rewrite of U.S. tax rules to the president’s desk. In return, Trump helped Hatch deliver a key issue for Utah Republicans with a controversial move to drastically reduce two national monuments established by former presidents.
Hatch retired in 2019. Trump urged him to run again, but the longtime senator would have faced a tough primary election and had promised to resign. Hatch called on Republican Mitt Romney, a Trump critic, to stand up to replace him.
“Few men have left their mark on the Senate as he did,” Romney wrote in a tribute to his friend and predecessor, praising his “vision and legislative performance.”
Former Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa issued a statement recalling Hatch’s assistance in securing conservative support for the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which Hatch would later rank among his most important 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 compromise,” Harkin said.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee called Hatch “a friend, a mentor, and an example to me and countless others.”
Hatch became known for a side career as a singer and record artist with themes from his religious faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He leaves behind his wife, Elaine, and their six children.
Hatch was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976 and served seven terms to become the longest-serving senator in Utah history. He became Senate president pro tempore in 2015 when Republicans took control of the Senate. The position made him the third in line of the president’s succession after then-Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of Parliament. His tenure places him as the longest-running GOP senator, behind several Democrats.
One issue Hatch returned to during his career was restricting or banning abortion, a position that put him at the center of one of the country’s most controversial issues. He was the author of a number of proposed “Layer Changes” to the Constitution aimed at reducing the availability of abortions.
In 1991, he became known as one of Thomas’ most vocal defenders against allegations of sexual harassment by law professor Anita Hill. Hatch read aloud at the confirmation hearings from “The Exorcist,” and he suggested that Hill steal details from the book.
Although Hatch was undoubtedly conservative, Hatch was sometimes different from conservative colleagues – including then-President George W. Bush, when Hatch pushed for federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
In 1997, Hatch joined Kennedy to sponsor 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 raised on the principles of courtesy and compromise, and he embodied those principles better than anyone else,” Hatch Foundation President 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 Kentucky Republican, praised Hatch’s legislative sense.
“Orrin’s decades of leadership drove an endless catalog of great legislative achievements and landmark affirmations,” 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 stuck to his principles throughout his career. “
Hatch also helped enact legislation that tightened laws against child pornography and illegal downloading of music.
The problem with downloading music was a personal issue. A member of the faith commonly known as the 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 song, “Unspoken”, got platinum after performing on “WOW Hits 2005”, a collection 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 the Democrats. Hatch recognized that winning would be a long chance, and withdrew from the race after receiving only 1% of the votes in the Iowa caucuses. He supported George W. Bush.
He became a strong opponent of President Barack Obama’s 2009 health law after withdrawing from the early negotiations between two parties on the legislation. At one point, he said of the legislation: “It is 2,074 pages long. That’s enough to make you barefoot. “
Hatch faced a tough re-election campaign from a Conservative candidate in 2012, two years after a tea party wave, longtime Republican Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah stepped down from office. Both Bennett and Hatch voted for a bank rescue package in 2008 that ranked the far right.
Hatch poured about $ 10 million into his run in 2012 and worked to build support among tea party conservatives.
Hatch was used to playing hard – he learned to box as a kid in Pittsburgh to ward off attacks from older, older students. Without fear of fighting, he said he always made a point of quickly becoming friends with those he had quarreled with.
When Hatch announced he would not seek re-election in 2018, he said “every good fighter knows when to hang up his 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, upsetting Democratic Sen. Frank Moss narrowly.
In 1982, he held back challenger Ted Wilson, the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City, to win another term by a solid margin.
He was never really challenged again.
Orrin Grant Hatch was born in 1934 in Pittsburgh, of 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 Thomson, Rhodes and Grigsby in this town until 1969. Later he was a partner in Salt Lake City company Hatch & Plumb.
His six children are Brent, Marcia, Scott, Kimberly, Alysa and Jess.