Former Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch Dead At 88

Former Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch has died at the age of 88.

Hatch was the longest-serving senator in Utah history and the longest-serving Republican senator. He was also the former president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate and chair of the powerful Finance Committee at the time of his retirement at the end of his seventh term. He represented his state from 1977 to 2019.

He died at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in Salt Lake City, surrounded by family, according to the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.

Former Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch died on Saturday. He was 88.
Former Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch died on Saturday. He was 88.

Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

Hatch, a onetime Mormon bishop who grew up in working-class Philadelphia, had a reputation for working across the aisle. Consequently, he successfully produced an enormous number of laws. By the time he left office, he had sponsored or co-sponsored 790 bills that became law, The Washington Post reported.

At the time of his retirement, Hatch “held the distinction of having passed more legislation into law than any other senator alive,” said a statement from the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation. “Through his relentless work ethic, Hatch earned a reputation as one of the most effective and bipartisan lawmakers of all time.”

Hatch Foundation Chairman A. Scott Anderson called Hatch a “man of wisdom, kindness, character, and compassion” who believed in compromise. “In a nation divided, Orrin Hatch helped show us a better way by forging meaningful friendships on both sides of the aisle,” he said.

Former Senate historian Donald Ritchie told the Post that while Hatch was a “tough partisan, a solid conservative, he could make strategic alliances to get legislation passed.”

“People on his side of the aisle trusted him, and people on the other side respected him,” Ritchie added.

His most impressive collaboration was with the late Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy. The two worked together to pass the landmark Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997, which provided states with matching grants to cover uninsured children in working-poor families.

Far less popular was his staunch support of Clarence Thomas to become a Supreme Court justice in the face of sexual harassment accusations from Anita Hill.

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Over time Hatch leaned increasingly right and became a Donald Trump loyalist, even though he had preferred Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or Sen. Marco Rubio to become the Republican presidential candidate in 2016.

But he won praise Saturday from both Democrats and Republicans.

“Orrin’s decades of leadership drove an unending catalog of major legislative accomplishments and landmark confirmations,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement.

He was also “warm … deeply kind and gentlemanly. He cherished his faith and loved his church. He loved music. He was also exceptionally funny — hilarious, really,” he added.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called him a “lion of the Senate,” noting that “few men have made their mark” as he did.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said in a tweet that Hatch “was kind to me and we worked together well. There were a lot of differences including party, height, age … you name it … but somehow we always looked for common ground.” She added: “Prayers for his family today.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) hailed Hatch as a “gentleman, statesman and a proud son of Pennsylvania.”

Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan called him an “honorable senator and public servant — but most importantly, he was a genuinely decent man.”

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