Utah Senator Orrin Hatch’s announcement on Tuesday that he will not run for reelection was political news of the first order. The departure of a seven-term senator with a distinguished record of service would naturally make the news on its own merit. In this case, Orrin Hatch’s decision was headline-making, as it triggered intense media speculation about whether former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will succeed him.
There are many people who are sad to see Sen. Hatch go, but perhaps none so much as President Donald Trump, who reportedly implored him to seek another term.
For anyone following the progress of the administration’s tax bill last month, the reason should be obvious. As chairman of the Finance Committee, Hatch played a central role in drafting the measure and seeing it through. It was Mr. Trump’s first major legislative achievement, and he owed much of it to the senator from Utah.
But at 83, the most senior Republican in the Senate decided it was time to retire.
Romney has been counted as one of the harshest of Mr. Trump’s critics within the Republican party, and the president is understandably wary of the prospect of him taking Hatch’s seat.
While Romney has not said he will run, most political observers think he will, and if so will be elected. Spencer Zwick, a longtime fund-raiser, would not confirm that Romney will run, but said that “of all the people who can run, Mitt will represent and honor the legacy of Senator Hatch more than anybody.”
Whether that includes Hatch’s support for Mr. Trump is not so clear. “When there are things he agrees with him on, he’ll be a big supporter, and when there are things he disagrees with, he’ll voice that,” said Zwick.
Such is the discussion surrounding Senator Hatch’s retirement: the inevitable calculations about who will replace him, how it will affect national politics, who will win and who will lose.
For the Jewish community, his departure carries special meaning. Sen. Hatch has been a friend of American Jewry and Israel for decades. In his most recent months in office, he demonstrated that friendship over and over again, wielding his considerable power and prestige on behalf of the Jewish people.
When Sholom Rubashkin was released from prison, the senator tweeted that this “is a real Hanukkah miracle.”
“I am proud to be a part of a large, bipartisan group of members of Congress who, along with over a hundred former senior justice officials, have been calling for Mr. Rubashkin’s release for the past eight years,” he posted.
As he acknowledged, the freeing of Rubashkin was the work of many people. In the Jewish community especially, leaders and activists from across the spectrum worked unflaggingly to end a terrible injustice. But Senator Hatch’s special role in this effort bespeaks his strong feeling on the issue: He personally went to the White House and handed President Trump a letter asking him to commute Rubashkin’s sentence, saying “this is very important to me.”
He also responded positively to Agudath Israel of America’s appeal for “the expansion of 529 education savings accounts to the K-12 level,” backing an amendment that would have allowed parents sending their children to religious school to deduct 25 percent of their tuition fees as a charitable contribution.
On Israel, he has been a solid participant in the historical bipartisan consensus in support of the state, and on December 6 hailed the president’s recognition of Yerushalayim as Israel’s capital as “long overdue.”
During the Obama administration, Hatch was outraged by the president’s treatment of Israel. “By calling for a return to the pre-1967 borders, President Obama has directly undermined her,” Hatch said.
“Rather than stand by Israel against consistent unprovoked aggression by longtime supporters of terrorism, President Obama is rewarding those who threaten Israel’s very right to exist. This is not only ridiculous, but dangerous.” The statement was followed up with a resolution he introduced “affirming Israel’s right to maintain its territorial integrity.”
Senator Hatch said he’s retiring from the Senate but not from public life. The Jewish community looks forward to many more years of his warm advocacy for its causes, and is hopeful that Mitt Romney, or whoever is chosen to represent Utah, will do so with the same distinction as Orrin Hatch.