After seven terms, Utah's Hatch finally hears the call

Wednesday , January 03, 2018 - 4:30 AM


Four decades ago, Orrin Hatch delivered a devastating line to defeat U.S. Sen. Frank Moss.

"What do you call a senator who's served in office for 18 years? You call him home,” Hatch said.

Hatch finally heard the call Tuesday, announcing he plans to retire at the end of his 42nd year in the Senate.

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“When the president visited Utah last month, he said I was a fighter,” Hatch said in a YouTube video. “I’ve always been a fighter. … But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching. That’s why, after much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I’ve decided to retire at the end of this term.”

Hatch, a faithful conservative, served Utah and the nation well. He could be relied upon to support Republican presidents and serve as a counterbalance to Democratic administrations.

But he did his best work building alliances across the aisle, often collaborating with Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat. In 1997, they fought to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program for the working poor, and in 2008, they found a way to expand it.

It worked. In its first 18 years, CHIP lowered the uninsured rate of low-income children from nearly 25 percent to less than 7 percent.

“As your senator, I’ve always sought to fight for those who could not fight for themselves. And I believe the results speak for themselves,” Hatch said in Tuesday’s video.

Eventually, though, the aging fighter could no longer deliver the knockout punches that made him a legend. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he promised to renew CHIP after Congress allowed it to lapse in September.

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“We’re going to get CHIP through. There is no question about that. I’m going to see that it gets through,” he vowed.

Yet in the end, he didn’t. He could not extend his single most important piece of legislation, the law that embodied his career in politics. Instead, he fell in line behind President Donald Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, focusing almost exclusively on a series of failed attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, followed by a chaotic drive to pass an unpopular tax cut bill. CHIP continues only as part of a stopgap spending measure that expires Jan. 19.

Trump appreciated Hatch’s loyalty and encouraged him to seek an eighth term — in part, at least, to block a Senate bid by former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who now lives in Utah and emerged as a leader of the “Never Trump” movement when he attacked Trump as a phony in 2016.

A poll last fall showed 75 percent of Utahns disagree with Trump — they said it was time for Hatch, 83, to end his career. And on Christmas Day, an editorial in The Salt Lake Tribune criticized Hatch for “His utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power,” urging him to retire.

Utahns called him home, and Hatch finally decided to listen. He made the right choice.

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