(NewsNation) — Former U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, who served in the U.S. Senate for 42 years, died at 88 in Salt Lake City, the Hatch Foundation announced on Twitter Saturday. The foundation did not specify a cause for Hatch’s death.
“Senator Orrin G. Hatch personified the American Dream,” said Matt Sandgren, Executive Director of the Hatch Foundation in a press release. “Born the son of a carpenter and plaster lather, he overcame the poverty of his youth to become a United States Senator. 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.
Hatch was the longest-serving senator in Utah history, spanning the terms of seven U.S. presidents from 1977 to 2019. He was also the former President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate, a position that made him third in the line of presidential succession behind then-Vice President Joe Biden and the Speaker of the House. When he retired, he was succeeded by 2012 Presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
A conservative on most economic and social issues, he nonetheless teamed with Democrats several times during his long career on issues ranging from stem cell research to rights for people with disabilities to expanding children’s health insurance. He also formed friendships across the aisle, particularly with the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
One issue Hatch returned to over the course of his career was limiting or outlawing abortion, a position that put him at the center of one of the nation’s most controversial issues for decades. He was the author of a variety of “Hatch amendments” to the Constitution aimed at diminishing the availability of abortions.
In 1991, he became known as one of the most vocal defenders of Clarence Thomas against sexual harassment allegations from Anita Hill. Hatch read aloud at the confirmation hearings from “The Exorcist,” and he suggested that Hill stole details from the book.
While unquestionably conservative, there were times Hatch differed from many of his conservative colleagues — including then-President George W. Bush when Hatch pushed for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
Toward the end of his career, he also helped pass a federal tax overhaul and pushed for President Donald Trump to downsize two national monuments in Utah as he called for a return to an era of political civility. He became an ally of Trump.
In 1997, Hatch joined Kennedy in sponsoring a $24 billion program for states to provide health insurance to the children of low-income parents who don’t qualify for Medicaid.
Hatch helped usher through legislation toughening child pornography laws and making illegally downloading music a prosecutable crime.
For Hatch, the issue of illegally downloaded music was a personal one. A Mormon, he frequently wrote religious songs and recorded music in his spare time as a way to relax from the stresses of life in Washington. Hatch earned about $39,000 in royalties from his songs in 2005.
One of his songs, “Unspoken,” went platinum after appearing on “WOW Hits 2005,” a compilation of Christian pop music.
In 2000, Hatch sought the Republican nomination for president, saying he had more experience in Washington than his opponents and that he could work with Democrats. Hatch readily acknowledged that winning would be a long shot. He withdrew from the race after only winning 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses and then endorsed George W. Bush.
He became a strong opponent of President Barack Obama’s 2009 health care law after pulling out of early bipartisan talks on the legislation. At one point, he said of the legislation: “It is 2,074 pages long. It is enough to make you barf.”
Hatch faced a tough re-election battle from a conservative candidate in 2012, two years after a tea party wave carried longtime Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett out of office. Both Bennett and Hatch voted in favor of a 2008 bank bailout that rankled those on the far right.
Hatch poured about $10 million into his 2012 race and worked to build support among tea party conservatives.
Hatch was used to playing tough — he learned to box as a child in Pittsburgh to fend off the attacks of older, larger students. Unafraid to fight, he said he always made a point to quickly become friends with those he had arguments with.
When Hatch announced he would not seek re-election in 2018, he said “every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves.”
After moving to Utah in the early 1970s, Hatch — a former bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — ran for his first public office in 1976 and narrowly upset Democratic Sen. Frank Moss.
In 1982, he held off challenger Ted Wilson, the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City, to win a second term by a solid margin.
He was never seriously challenged again.
Orrin Grant Hatch was born in 1934 in Pittsburgh. He married Elaine Hanson in 1957 and graduated from Brigham Young University in 1959. He received a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1962 and was a partner in the law firm of Thomson, Rhodes and Grigsby in that city until 1969.
Later, he was a partner in the Salt Lake City firm of Hatch & Plumb.
He is survived by his wife, Elaine, and their six children: Brent, Marcia, Scott, Kimberly, Alysa and Jess.