Retirement fever is contagious. Orrin Hatch of Utah is the latest to say he’s leaving the U.S. Senate, and the Republicans and the nation will miss him on Capitol Hill.
His retirement, announced Tuesday, follows that of Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Mr. Hatch has served in the U.S. Senate for 42 years and he has been a reliable conservative and Republican. Messrs. Flake and Corker, not so much.
Mr. Hatch, 83, is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, one of the most powerful committees in Congress because it controls the money on which all else depends, and Mr. Hatch worked with the Trump administration late last year on writing the winning tax-reform legislation.
“When the president visited Utah last month,” the senator said Tuesday, “he said I was a fighter. I’ve always been a fighter. I was an amateur boxer in my youth, and I brought that fighting spirit to Washington. But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching.”
President Trump had urged Mr. Hatch to stay in the Senate for “a very long time,” and the president will miss him most of all, particularly if Mitt Romney goes home to Utah to run for the Hatch seat. Mr. Romney appears to be the favorite of the Mormon establishment in Utah, but he’s no favorite of the president. He has called the president a “fraud,” a “phony,” and other unpleasant things. “He’s playing the American public for suckers,” he told an interviewer. “He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.”
This was a remarkable outburst of venom, particularly from a man who was once himself the Republican nominee for president. But Mr. Romney has been one of the fiercest critics of this president, cooling his criticism briefly when he thought he was under consideration for secretary of State. Once the job went to Rex Tillerson, he resumed fire.
Orrin Hatch, however, told the National Journal not long ago that he thinks Mr. Romney would be a “perfect” successor, though he concedes that at 70 he’s getting a little long in the tooth for a Senate candidate. Many senators are beyond 70, however, and many serve in robust health for years after that. With his business credentials — he was widely credited with saving the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah — and faithful in the Mormon faith, age probably would not be held against him.
“I’ve expressed to him [my support],” Mr. Hatch told the National Journal. “I can see why he might not want to do it, but I can also see why, if he did it, it would be a great thing for America.”
Mr. Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator, is further the president pro-tempore of the U.S. Senate, third in line to the presidency, behind Michael Pence, the vice president, and Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House of Representatives. When he retires, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi becomes president pro-tempore and third in line to the presidency.
If he runs to succeed the senator, Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, would have to change his residency from Massachusetts to Utah, but there are precedents for that. Hillary Clinton, who had been a resident of Arkansas before she became the first lady for eight years, moved her registration to New York in the year 2000 to run for the Senate.
There will likely be other retirements, all of them closely watched. With familiar faces disappearing and with control of Congress in the balance, every seat may count.
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