Longest serving U.S. Republican senator Orrin Hatch dies

Orrin Hatch

Orrin Hatch

Orrin G. Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in history and a fixture in Utah politics for more than four decades, has died at age 88.

Hatch was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976 and served seven terms to become the longest-serving senator in Utah history.

The retired senator’s death Saturday 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 formed friendships across the aisle, particularly with the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

President Joe Biden, whose served with Hatch in the Senate over three decades, on Sunday described the Republican lawmaker as a fighter for the causes he believed in, but with a softer side including writing songs and poems that 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 that energetic, sharp-elbowed Orrin in the many battles we had over tax policy, the right of workers to join a union, and many others.”

Hatch 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.

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 U.S. tax codes to the president’s desk.

Hatch retired in 2019 and encouraged Mitt Romney, a Trump critic, 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.”

Former Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa issued a statement recalling Hatch’s help in securing conservative support for the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which Hatch would later rank among his most important accomplishments.

“Orrin was always a likable conservative, and until the advent of the Trump administration, willing to work with liberals to find common ground and compromises,” Harkin said.

Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee called Hatch “a friend, a mentor and an example to me and countless others.”

Hatch was noted for a side career as a singer and recording artist 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.

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