Hatch laments loss of civility for US Senate in ‘crisis’
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Outgoing U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah bemoaned the disappearance of political civility, kinship and cross-party collaboration during a farewell speech Wednesday where he called the Senate a legislative body in “crisis.”
Hatch, 84, will step down next month as the longest-serving Republican senator in history after serving 42 years. After helping pass a sweeping overhaul of the tax code and persuading President Donald Trump to downsize two sprawling national monuments in Utah, Hatch announced in January he wouldn’t seek an eighth term.
Speaking on the Senate floor in Washington, Hatch said he felt sadness about the state of the U.S. Senate and longingly remembered when lawmakers from both political parties “worked constructively” together for the “good of the country.′ He called for greater unity.
“The Senate I’ve describe is not some fairly tale, but the reality we once knew,” said Hatch, who joined the Senate in 1977. “Things weren’t always as they are now. I was here when this body was at its best.”
He added: “Our challenge is to rise above the din and divisiveness of today’s politics. It is to tune out the noise and tune into reason. It is to choose a patience over impulse, and fact over feeling.”
Hatch has long been a staunch conservative, but worked across the aisle with the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. He also authored landmark bipartisan legislation, increasing access to generic-drugs.
“Teddy and I were a case study in contradictions. He was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat; I was a resolute Republican,” Hatch said. “But by choosing friendship over party loyalty, we were able to pass some of the most significant bipartisan achievements of modern times. . . .Nine years after Teddy’s passing, it’s worth asking: Could a relationship like this even exist in today’s Senate? Or are we too busy attacking each other to even consider friendship with the other side?”
Hatch has also clashed with opponents in recent years. During a tax-cut debate with Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio last year, Hatch said he was tired of the Democrat’s “bull crap.” Earlier this year, Hatch used an expletive during a speech to describe supporters of former President Barack Obama’s health care law, though he later apologized.
Hatch also became an ally of President Trump, who has repeatedly fought with Democrats. Hatch used his role as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee to get a major rewrite of the U.S. tax codes to the president’s desk while Trump helped Hatch downsize the monuments and get a Utah man freed from a Venezuelan prison.
The theme of Hatch’s speech dovetails with the goal of using a future library and think tank named after him in Utah to lead a movement toward bipartisanship and civility in politics.
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who won the election to fill Hatch’s seat, highlighted Hatch’s call for “mutual respect, pluralism, dignity, comity and unity” in a Tweet where he said Hatch’s call for greatness is “characteristic of this man of vision.”
Hatch said of all the legislation he worked on, he’s most proud of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed by Congress in 1993 to protect people whose religious observances come in conflict with government laws or agency rules.
He called on the Senate to find ways to protect people’s right to practice their faith while also shielding LGBTQ people from discrimination.
“We must honor the rights both of believers and LGBTQ individuals,” Hatch said. “We must, in short, find a path forward that promotes fairness for all.”
After his speech, Senate colleagues took turns giving quick tributes to Hatch. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah called him “a towering political figure” who made “an indelible mark on our state, on the United States Senate and on this nation.”