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Orrin Hatch, longest-serving Republican U.S. senator, dies at 88

Orrin Hatch, the longtime Republican senator from Utah, died Saturday in Salt Lake City at the age of 88, the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation announced.

Hatch, who retired in January 2019 at the end of his last term, served in the Senate for 42 years, making him the longest-serving Republican U.S. senator.

He died surrounded by family, the foundation said. The cause of death was not released.

“Senator Orrin G. Hatch personified the American Dream,” Matt Sandgren, executive director of the Hatch Foundation, said in a statement. “Born the son of a carpenter and plaster lather, he overcame the poverty of his youth to become a United States Senator.”

Hatch was also the longest-serving U.S. senator in Utah history. He was first elected in 1976 and announced his retirement in January 2018.

He referred to his past as an amateur boxer in making the announcement, saying in a video: “Every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me that time is soon approaching.”

Hatch was born in Homestead Park, Pennsylvania, in 1934.

Raised in what he’s called “a ramshackle house” during the Great Depression, Hatch went on to serve as chairman of three different Senate committees and put his stamp on major pieces of legislation across the policy spectrum.

Hatch graduated from Brigham Young University in 1959 with a bachelor’s in history, and a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1962. He moved to Utah in 1969.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox tweeted that “Utah mourns with the Hatch family.”

“This breaks my heart. Abby and I are so grateful for the opportunities we had to spend time with this incredible public servant. He was always so kind and generous with his time and wisdom,” Cox, a Republican, wrote.

Hatch was a member and former bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He ran for his first public office in 1976 and narrowly upset Democratic Sen. Frank Moss, and then won a second term by beating Democratic Salt Lake City Ted Wilson in 1982. He had no serious challenger after that.

Hatch sought the 2000 GOP nomination for president, but ended his brief presidential bid after the Iowa caucuses and endorsed George W. Bush. When he entered the race, he said he believed in miracles and “it would probably take that to elect me,” according to reports at the time.

In November 2018, Hatch was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, by President Donald Trump.

At the ceremony Trump called Hatch “a true American statesman” and said “his achievements are too numerous to count.” He noted Hatch’s long service in the Senate and also the passage of a major tax reform bill.

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Hatch was instrumental in getting the 2017 Republican tax reform bill through Congress, giving Trump one of the biggest wins of his administration.

During his long career in the Senate, Hatch sponsored or co-sponsored more than 750 bills that became law, the foundation said.

In his farewell speech on Dec. 12, 2018, Hatch bemoaned the lack of regular order and said “the Senate, as an institution, is in crisis or at least may be in crisis.”

“We must restore the culture of comity, compromise, and mutual respect that used to exist here. Both in our personal and public conduct, we must be the very change we want to see in the country. We must not be enemies but friends,” Hatch said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who at 41 years is among the top 10 longest-serving senators of all time, called Hatch a friend and said he was saddened by his death. They served on the judiciary and finance committees together for decades, Grassley, 88, tweeted.

Hatch was a conservative on most economic and social issues, but he teamed with Democrats on issues that included stem cell research, rights for people with disabilities and expanding children’s health insurance.

In his farewell speech, he recounted “unlikely” friendships with Democrats in previous years, including with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and wondered if their friendship could exist today.

He also championed GOP issues like abortion limits and helped shape the U.S. Supreme Court, including defending Clarence Thomas against sexual harassment allegations during confirmation hearings.

Hatch is survived by his wife, Elaine, and their six children. Funeral arrangements will be announced at a later date, the Hatch Foundation said.

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