Orrin Hatch, the senator from Utah who has served for longer than any other Republican in history, announced Tuesday that he will not seek reelection.
Hatch’s retirement paves the path to the Senate for Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate and governor of Massachusetts, to run for Hatch’s seat, a move that President Trump has been reportedly lobbying against behind closed doors, according to Politico.
“After much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I’ve decided to retire at the end of this term,” Hatch said in the video announcement.
Hatch has been a close ally of President Donald Trump, giving a laudatory speech on the president’s behalf as recently as late December: “We’re going to keep fighting, and we’re going to make this the greatest presidency that we’ve seen, not only in generations, but maybe ever," Hatch said during a speech celebrating the passing of the GOP tax reform bill.
By contrast, Trump has a long, unfriendly history with Romney, who is widely expected to run for Hatch’s seat. The president was reportedly pressuring Hatch to run for another term, largely as a means of keeping Romney out of the seat. Romney called Trump a “fraud” during the 2016 election, and delivered a widely-viewed speech attacking the presumptive Republican nominee calling for a convention-floor fight.
Trump countered that Romney had “choked like a dog” when Romney was the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.
Trump and Romney appeared to have come to terms when Romney was briefly considered to be a nominee for Secretary of State, a role that eventually went to Rex Tillerson.
Utah has consistently voted Republican in the last several elections, but the state doesn’t love Trump. Third-party challenger Evan McMullin, who is a Mormon, did unusually well in Utah for a candidate running outside of the two major parties, earning 21 percent of the votes. Trump earned only 46 percent.
Utah’s biggest newspaper, the Salt Lake Tribune, also recently named Hatch Utahn of the Year — but not in a good way. The editorial said its award for Hatch had more to do with his “utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power” than with the fact that he’s the longest-serving Republican senator in history.
The tax reform bill was widely seen as a culmination of Hatch’s career in Congress. He’s long been seen as a champion for Republican-led tax reform, and he helped write the new law. With the ink dry on the GOP’s tax reform bill, though, and a 40-year career in the Senate behind him, he’s out.