WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said Tuesday he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the Senate, opening the door for 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to run for his seat.
The 83-year-old Hatch, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, opted for retirement despite a full-court press from President Donald Trump to stay in Washington, particularly as Romney’s ambition for the seat became apparent.
Romney was a vocal critic of Trump’s during the 2016 election and could be a potential thorn in the president’s side in the Senate. He also has drawn the ire of Trump’s former White House adviser, Steve Bannon, who recently derided Romney as a draft dodger who “hid behind” his Mormon religion to avoid serving in the Vietnam War.
Hatch said he decided to retire at the end of his seventh term after “much prayer and discussion with family and friends” over the holiday break. He said he’s always been a fighter, “but every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves.”
“Only in a nation like ours could someone like me — the scrappy son of a simple carpenter — grow up to become a United States Senator,” he added.
Trump had been open in recent months about pressuring Hatch to stay in the Senate, and his private lobbying campaign was bolstered by a public love fest, with Trump inviting Hatch with him on Air Force One in December when he shrunk the boundaries of two Utah monuments.
“Congratulations to Senator Orrin Hatch on an absolutely incredible career. He has been a tremendous supporter, and I will never forget the (beyond kind) statements he has made about me as President,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “He is my friend and he will be greatly missed in the U.S. Senate!”
Hatch chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee and was a major force in getting a tax overhaul through Congress and signed into law in December. He also played a key role in persuading Trump to sign proclamations scaling back the two Utah monuments that Hatch and other conservatives considered examples of government overreach.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who now lives in Utah, thanked Hatch in a statement on Facebook and said Hatch “has represented the interests of Utah with distinction and honor.”
Romney’s statement did not mention his own plans.
If he ran, Romney would enter the Senate race as the heavy favorite, having carried Utah in 2012 by a margin of nearly 3-to-1 over Democrat Barack Obama. Romney would likely be among a small number of influential Republicans willing to take on Trump.