Hatch's retirement lets him leave at the height of his power

AP

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  • FILE - In this Sept. 15, 1982, file photo, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, addresses a group from the Alliance of Metalworking industries on the steps of the Capitol in Washington. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/File)

  • 1

    FILE - In this Sept. 28, 1984, file photo, U.S. President Ronald Reagan signs S. 2155, the Utah Wilderness Act of 1984 in the White House Oval Office in Washington. Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, left, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah looks on. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File)

  • 2

    FILE - In this June 22, 1989, file photo, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, talks with former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali during the Pediatrics AIDS Foundation benefit gala in Washington. Hatch says he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Jeff Markowitz, File)

  • 3

    FILE - In this Jan. 3, 1983, file photo, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, takes the oath of office of the U.S. Senate from Vice President George Bush as his wife Elaine looks on during the reenactment ceremony in the old Senate Chambers on Capitol Hill in Washington. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

  • 4

    FILE - In this June 11, 1981, file photo, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., do some finger-pointing before a press conference at the Capitol by members of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee in Washington. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate.(AP Photo/John Duricka, File)

  • 5

    FILE - In this Feb. 14, 1995, file photo, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, holds a Ted Williams model "Thumper" baseball bat while Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., right, stands next to him on during a Capitol Hill news conference to announce the introduction of legislation to partially repealing professional baseball's antitrust exemption. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/John Duricka, File)

  • 6

    FILE - In this March 12, 1993, file photo, President Bill Clinton huddles with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., after the swearing in of Attorney General Janet Reno at the White House in Washington. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File)

  • 7

    FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2003, file photo President George W. Bush greets applauding Congressional leaders as he signs into law the Medicare prescription drug benefit at the Daughters of the American Revolution's Constitution Hall in Washington. From left to right: Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., President Bush, and Sen. John Breaux, D-La., partially obscured, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

  • 8

    FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2010, file photo, President Barack Obama shakes hands with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC., after signing the Fair Sentencing Act, in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington. From left are, Attorney General Eric Holder, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

  • 9

    FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2013, file photo, Vice President Joe Biden administers the Senate Oath to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, accompanied by his wife Elaine, during a mock swearing in ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, as the 113th Congress officially began. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)

  • 10

    FILE - In this June 8, 2012, file photo, Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, walks alongside. U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah on the tarmac of Salt Lake City International Airport, in Salt Lake City. Romney is considering a new career in Congress. Those who know the 70-year-old former Republican presidential nominee best expect him to announce plans to seek a suddenly vacant Utah Senate seat. Incumbent Orrin Hatch announced Tuesday that he would not seek re-election this fall. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley, File)

  • 11

    FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2016, file photo, Mitt Romney talks with reporters after eating dinner with then President-elect Donald Trump at Jean-Georges restaurant in New York. Romney is considering a new career in Congress. Those who know the 70-year-old former Republican presidential nominee best expect him to announce plans to seek a suddenly vacant Utah Senate seat. Incumbent Orrin Hatch announced Tuesday that he would not seek re-election this fall.(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

  • FILE - In this Sept. 15, 1982, file photo, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, addresses a group from the Alliance of Metalworking industries on the steps of the Capitol in Washington. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/File)

  • 1

    FILE - In this Sept. 28, 1984, file photo, U.S. President Ronald Reagan signs S. 2155, the Utah Wilderness Act of 1984 in the White House Oval Office in Washington. Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, left, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah looks on. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File)

  • 2

    FILE - In this June 22, 1989, file photo, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, talks with former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali during the Pediatrics AIDS Foundation benefit gala in Washington. Hatch says he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Jeff Markowitz, File)

  • 3

    FILE - In this Jan. 3, 1983, file photo, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, takes the oath of office of the U.S. Senate from Vice President George Bush as his wife Elaine looks on during the reenactment ceremony in the old Senate Chambers on Capitol Hill in Washington. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

  • 4

    FILE - In this June 11, 1981, file photo, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., do some finger-pointing before a press conference at the Capitol by members of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee in Washington. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate.(AP Photo/John Duricka, File)

  • 5

    FILE - In this Feb. 14, 1995, file photo, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, holds a Ted Williams model "Thumper" baseball bat while Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., right, stands next to him on during a Capitol Hill news conference to announce the introduction of legislation to partially repealing professional baseball's antitrust exemption. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/John Duricka, File)

  • 6

    FILE - In this March 12, 1993, file photo, President Bill Clinton huddles with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., after the swearing in of Attorney General Janet Reno at the White House in Washington. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File)

  • 7

    FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2003, file photo President George W. Bush greets applauding Congressional leaders as he signs into law the Medicare prescription drug benefit at the Daughters of the American Revolution's Constitution Hall in Washington. From left to right: Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., President Bush, and Sen. John Breaux, D-La., partially obscured, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

  • 8

    FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2010, file photo, President Barack Obama shakes hands with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC., after signing the Fair Sentencing Act, in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington. From left are, Attorney General Eric Holder, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

  • 9

    FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2013, file photo, Vice President Joe Biden administers the Senate Oath to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, accompanied by his wife Elaine, during a mock swearing in ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, as the 113th Congress officially began. Hatch said he will not seek re-election after serving more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)

  • 10

    FILE - In this June 8, 2012, file photo, Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, walks alongside. U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah on the tarmac of Salt Lake City International Airport, in Salt Lake City. Romney is considering a new career in Congress. Those who know the 70-year-old former Republican presidential nominee best expect him to announce plans to seek a suddenly vacant Utah Senate seat. Incumbent Orrin Hatch announced Tuesday that he would not seek re-election this fall. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley, File)

  • 11

    FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2016, file photo, Mitt Romney talks with reporters after eating dinner with then President-elect Donald Trump at Jean-Georges restaurant in New York. Romney is considering a new career in Congress. Those who know the 70-year-old former Republican presidential nominee best expect him to announce plans to seek a suddenly vacant Utah Senate seat. Incumbent Orrin Hatch announced Tuesday that he would not seek re-election this fall.(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Orrin Hatch's decision to retire from the Senate after four decades lets the Utah Republican walk away at the height of his power after helping to push through an overhaul of the tax code and persuading President Donald Trump to downsize two national monuments.

Retirement also preserves the 83-year-old's legacy by allowing him to avoid a bruising re-election battle that would have broken his promise not to seek an eighth term.

Hatch first won election to the Senate in 1976, when he made a case to voters that three-term Democrat Frank Moss had been in office too long. Hatch went on to become one of the longest-serving senators in U.S. history, repeatedly telling voters that his experience made him all the more effective.

"Why would Utah give up its clout and power," Hatch asked during his 2000 re-election campaign, "just because someone says term limits are a good thing?"

Utah's other longtime senator, Republican Bob Bennett, who had worked across the aisle, was ousted during a 2010 backlash against the GOP establishment fueled by the tea party. Two years later, Hatch overcame a tough primary challenge and pledged that his next six years in office would be his last.

He flexed his political muscle during the last two years, serving as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and steering passage of the tax overhaul that was signed into law in December. He also led an effort to persuade Trump to take the rare step of scaling back the national monuments, which Utah's Republican leaders complained had locked up too much land.

"Look what just happened on the monuments," Former Utah Rep. Enid Greene Mickelsen said Wednesday. "You can love it or hate it, but it wouldn't have happened without Orrin Hatch. Simply would not have happened."

Trump used his announcement about the monuments to hail Hatch as "a true fighter" and to encourage him to run again.

Hatch's departure from the political stage opens the door for frequent Trump critic Mitt Romney, who has expressed interest in Hatch's seat.

Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate and Massachusetts governor, now lives in Utah, where he's fondly regarded as the man who helped turn around Salt Lake City's scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics. He's also one of the most famous and respected Mormons in the world a big deal in a state where 60 percent of residents belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

During the last presidential campaign, Romney called then-candidate Trump "a fraud" who had "neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president."

Hatch aligned himself with Trump despite the real-estate mogul's lukewarm reception among Utah Mormons and conservatives who place a premium on civility and were turned off by the president's brash demeanor, name-calling and his comments about women and minorities.

In 2016, Hatch endorsed Trump and later called him "an extraordinary man" and "one of the best I've served under." By ushering through tax reform, Hatch helped deliver the president's first major legislative achievement.

The tax legislation, along with his efforts to dismantle the monuments and his flirtation with another term drew a blistering editorial from The Salt Lake Tribune last week. Utah's largest newspaper said Hatch had an "utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power."

Hatch, known as a staunch conservative, had a close friendship with the late liberal lion Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. He worked with the Democrat to pass the American Disabilities Act and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

"If you look at the most significant human service-related legislation in the last 40-years, you'll see Orrin Hatch's name somehow associated with it, which I think will be a major part of his legacy," former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said Wednesday. "If a dictionary were to define compassionate conservative, they would cite Orrin Hatch as an example."

Hatch, a Mormon, frequently wrote religious songs and recorded music as a way to relax. One of his songs, "Unspoken," went platinum after appearing on "WOW Hits 2005," a compilation of Christian pop music.

He also ran for president in 2000 but backed out of the race for the Republican nomination after winning only 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses.

As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he confirmed nearly 1,900 federal judges and was at the center of many of the biggest confirmation fights, including President Barack Obama's blocked Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991.

During the Thomas hearings, he was known as the senator who read aloud from "The Exorcist" to suggest that Anita Hill lifted details of her sexual harassment allegations from the book.

Hatch would have faced an ugly fight to win re-election, but it's "an extraordinary thing in American political life today" for someone to walk away at the height of his power, Mickelsen said.

"People will say he did it under pressure, but in the end, he chose to go out on his terms," she said.

Hatch announced his decision Tuesday by saying he's always been a fighter, "but every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves."

          

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