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Ex-senator Orrin Hatch, hailed as ‘American original,’ dies at 88

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Former Republican US senator Orrin Hatch died Saturday in Salt Lake City at the age of 88./AFP
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Apr 25, 2022 - 10:42 AM

WASHINGTON — Former US senator Orrin Hatch, who retired in 2019 as one of the chamber’s longest-serving lawmakers, has died at 88, prompting President Joe Biden to praise his longtime colleague Sunday as “an American original.”

Hatch passed away Saturday evening in Salt Lake City surrounded by his family, the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation wrote on its website.

A conservative from the western state of Utah, Hatch was elected to the US Senate in 1977, his first public office and a position he held for 42 years, longer than any other Republican.

Through his tenure in the Senate, where seniority is prized, he was able to rise to the chairmanship of several powerful committees, including those overseeing trade, health care, taxes, and the judiciary.

Biden, a Democrat who served with Hatch in the Senate for more than three decades, hailed him as a “gentle soul” and man of faith who wrote songs and poems, but also as a fighter for his political beliefs.

“I saw that energetic, sharp-elbowed Orrin in the many battles we had over tax policy, the right of workers to join a union, and many others,” Biden said in a statement.

But the two also came together on issues such as cancer research, rights for people with disabilities, and child health insurance.

“He was, quite simply, an American original,” Biden said.

From 2015 until his retirement in 2019, Hatch served as president pro tempore of the Senate, a largely ceremonial role that usually goes to the most senior member of the majority party, but which by law is third in the line of succession to the US presidency.

Democrat Patrick Leahy, the Senate’s current president pro tempore, remembered Hatch as a convivial debate partner.

“When Orrin and I led the Judiciary Committee we sometimes had profound and difficult policy differences, but we found ways to break the ice,” Leahy said on Twitter.

Hatch worked across the aisle to pass multiple major pieces of legislation, such as a 1984 reform to boost generic drug production and the 1997 creation of a health insurance program for poor children.

However, lead Senate Republican Mitch McConnell noted in a statement that Hatch “entered the Senate as a young principled conservative” and “held to his principles his whole career.”

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in 2017, he was pivotal in passing former president Donald Trump’s tax reform package, the biggest legislative success of his presidency.

“Few men have made their mark on the Senate as he did,” Senator Mitt Romney, who was elected to fill Hatch’s seat in Utah when he retired, said in a statement.

“Our judiciary, our economy, and our national character are more elevated and more secure thanks to his years of leadership.”

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