I am saddened to hear that my friend and former colleague, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who served in the U.S. Senate from 1977-2019, died today at age 88. His 42-year tenure made him the longest serving Republican senator in U.S. history. Although I often bristled over his need to compromise on bad legislation rather than killing it, he was the consummate gentleman to all with whom he worked.
I remember the time we crossed swords during the height of the Clinton impeachment trial. He and I appeared on the Sunday morning ABC News program, "This Week." Orrin kept professing his public support for our team of House Managers (prosecutors), but he kept trying to negotiate a quick exit with the Democrats that precluded us from putting on any evidence and shutting down the so-called trial without giving us a chance to show why the House of Representatives, with five Democrats voting aye, impeached the first president in 135 years.
I wrote about one encounter with Orrin in my book on the Clinton impeachment, "Catching Our Flag":
On Sunday, January 10, 1999, an intern escorted me to the greenroom at ABC to join Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and John Breaux (D-LA), all of whom were scheduled for a separate interview segment on the show. Hatch seemed especially worried about what I might say regarding the Senate's "bipartisan" trial procedures. He also expressed his deep concern over Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) being one of our House Manager presenters. Hatch said Barr wouldn't be effective because the senators view him as a lightning rod.
Before we went into the studio for the interview, Hatch put his arm around my shoulder and asked if he could speak to me privately. We walked out in the hallway together. "I'm on your side," he said (despite his joining in the senatorial chorus approving the fast exit plan). Then Hatch hit me with an unexpected request: "I'm seriously thinking of running for president in 2000," he told me. "Having smart and respected fellows like you on my side would make a big difference. What do you think? Do you think I could do it, and do you think you could support a guy like me?"
Taken aback by the unexpected plea, I smiled: "Orrin, ask me that question later—after you vote in the Senate on whether we get to call witnesses."
Oblivious to the backhanded shot I took for him not backing us on witnesses, he replied, "Great! When this is all over, come by my office and get together with me on this. I really want to talk to you about it."
Walking away, I shook my head in amazement. I liked Orrin Hatch—then and now. In fact, he came to my district and campaigned for me when I first ran for Congress. However, asking someone to help make you president while you stab him confirmed my view that breathing the Senate air for too long can seriously distort one's judgment.
Orrin did run for president--briefly--in 2000, but his campaign never got off the blocks. He returned to the Senate where he served until his 2019 retirement. Despite our occasional political differences, and notwithstanding my unsuccessful battle against him and the Senate's GOP leadership during the Clinton trial, Orrin Hatch loved his family, loved his country, and loved the Lord. I mourn his loss today, and I join with thousands of others in paying my respects to a man who devoted his life to public service.