Former longtime Utah Senator Orrin Hatch dies at the age of 88

Retired Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), former president pro tempore of the Senate and the longest-serving Republican senator in history, died at the age of 88 on Saturday in Salt Lake City, his foundation announced.

The cause of death was not immediately clear from the foundation’s announcement.

“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,” he continued. “With the hardships of his upbringing always fresh in his mind, he made it his life’s mission to expand freedom and opportunity for others—and the results speak for themselves. From tax and trade to religious liberty and healthcare, few legislators have had a greater impact on American life than Orrin Hatch.”

Hatch served in the Senate for 42 years, representing Utah in the upper chamber from 1977 until 2019, including a stint as president pro tempore of the Senate between 2015 and 2019.

He chaired several key Senate committees, including the Judiciary Committee, Finance Committee, and what is now known as the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. 

More than 750 pieces of legislation either sponsored or cosponsored by Hatch were signed into law, and he “held the distinction of having passed more legislation into law than any other Senator alive,” according to his foundation.

Some of the key pieces of legislation he worked on were the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act, which “established the approval pathway for generic drug products,” according to the Food and Drug Administration.

“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, calling his former colleague “warm” and “deeply kind.”

In his farewell speech in the Senate in 2018, Hatch gave a somber warning to his colleagues that the upper chamber was “in crisis.”

“The last several years I have seen the abandonment of regular order. … Gridlock is the new norm. And like the humidity here, partisanship permeates everything we do,” Hatch said at the time.

“All the evidence points to an unsettling truth: The Senate, as an institution, is in crisis, or at least may be in crisis,” he added.

Politicians, lawmakers and Republican officials commemorated the longtime Utah senator on social media following the news of his death.

“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. Utah mourns with the Hatch family,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) said in a tweet.

“Devastated to learn of the loss of Sen. Orrin Hatch. He was a cherished friend. I met my husband while he worked for the Senator. We will miss him dearly. He was a statesman that represented the best our country has to offer. Please pray for his family,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) called Hatch a “giant in the Senate and pillar in Utah” in a statement.

“I saw countless times how his brilliant mind, quick wit, and care for his nation, his state, and his colleagues turned pernicious problems into clear paths forward,” Lee said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) acknowledged that while there were differences between the two, including politics, “somehow we always looked for common ground.”

“Senator 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. Prayers for his family today,” she tweeted.

Updated at 10:53 p.m.

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