SALT LAKE CITY — Orrin G. Hatch, who became the longest-serving Republican senator in history by representing Utah for more than four decades, died Saturday at the age of 88.
His death was announced in a statement from his foundation, which did not specify a cause. He launched the Hatch Foundation when he retired in 2019 and was succeeded by Republican Mitt Romney.
A conservative on most economic and social issues, he partnered with Democrats several times during his long career on issues ranging from stem cell research to the rights of people with disabilities to the expansion of children’s health insurance. He also formed friendships across the altar, particularly with the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
“He was an example of a generation of legislators educated in 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 by forging meaningful friendships on both sides of the aisle. Today, more than ever, we would do well to follow his lead.”
Hatch also championed Republican issues like limits on abortion and helped shape the US Supreme Court, including defending Justice Clarence Thomas against allegations of sexual harassment during confirmation hearings.
Towards the end of his career, Hatch 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 US tax codes to the president’s desk. . In return, Trump helped Hatch introduce a key issue for Republicans in Utah by agreeing to slash the size of two national monuments that had been declared by previous presidents.
Through Trump, he encouraged Hatch to run again, the veteran senator, who would have faced a tough primary battle and had vowed not to run again. Instead, Hatch stepped aside and encouraged Romney to run to replace him.
Hatch was also noted for her parallel career as a singer and recording artist for music themed around her religious faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He is survived by his wife, Elaine, and their six children.
Hatch came to the Senate after a victory in the 1976 election and became the longest-serving senator in Utah history, winning a seventh term in 2012. He became president pro tempore of the Senate in 2015 when Republicans They 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.
One issue Hatch returned to throughout his career was limiting or banning abortion, a position that put him at the center of one of the nation’s most controversial issues for decades. He was the author of a variety of “Hatch amendments” to the Constitution intended to decrease the availability of abortions.
In 1991, he became known as one of Clarence Thomas’s most vocal defenders against Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations. Hatch read “The Exorcist” aloud at confirmation hearings and suggested that Hill stole details from the book.
While unquestionably conservative, there were times when Hatch stood apart from many of his conservative colleagues, including then-President George W. Bush when Hatch pushed 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 don’t qualify for Medicaid.
Hatch helped push through legislation that tightens child pornography laws and makes illegal downloading of music a prosecutable offense.
For Hatch, the issue of illegally downloaded music was personal. As a Mormon, he often wrote religious songs and recorded music in his spare time as a way to unwind from the stress of life in Washington. Hatch earned about $39,000 in royalties from his songs in 2005.
One of his songs, “Unspoken,” went platinum after being featured on “WOW Hits 2005,” a Christian pop music compilation.
In 2000, Hatch sought the Republican nomination for president, saying he had more experience in Washington than his opponents and could work with Democrats. Hatch acknowledged that winning would be a long shot. He dropped out of the race after winning just 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses and later endorsed George W. Bush.
He became a strong opponent of President Barack Obama’s 2009 health care law after walking out of early bipartisan talks on the legislation. At one point, he said of the legislation: “It’s 2,074 pages long. It’s enough to make you throw up.”
Hatch faced a tough re-election battle from a conservative candidate in 2012, two years after a Tea Party wave ousted Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett. Both Bennett and Hatch voted for a bank bailout in 2008 that angered the far right.
Hatch put about $10 million into his 2012 run and worked to build support among Tea Party conservatives.
Hatch was used to playing tough: he learned to box as a kid in Pittsburgh to fend off attacks from bigger and older students. Unafraid to fight, he said that he always strove to quickly befriend those he argued with.
When Hatch announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018, he said that “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, narrowly defeating Democratic Sen. 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.
He was never seriously challenged again.
Orrin Grant Hatch was born in 1934 in Pittsburgh. 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 city until 1969.
Later, he was a partner in the Salt Lake City firm Hatch & Plumb. He had six children: Brent, Marcia, Scott, Kimberly, Alysa, and Jess.
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