Leader McConnell Pays Tribute to Senator Orrin Hatch

‘To this former all-star missionary and LDS bishop who still practices what he preached. To this living example of the American dream at its most extraordinary. This Pittsburgh fighter who climbed up from working poverty and became ‘The Gentleman of the Senate’ -- where he dedicated his work to strengthening that ladder for the generations that would follow. Orrin has been so generous to his colleagues, to this institution, to the state and the nation he’s served.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding the retirement of friend and colleague, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT):

“It is my bittersweet job this morning to pay tribute to an historic Senate career that will conclude at the end of this Congress. Senator Orrin Hatch has faithfully represented the people of Utah in this body for the last 42 years. That makes him dean of our Republican conference and, of course, president pro tempore of the Senate. It also makes him the longest-serving Republican Senator in our nation’s history.

“So Orrin’s longevity alone would have guaranteed him a place among the giants of the Senate. As he joked a couple of weeks ago, one of the most memorable experiences from his early Senate tenure was the confirmation process for Justice Joseph Story back in 1811. Apparently it was quite the scene, Orrin tells us. Seriously, though -- the most impressive thing about Orrin Hatch is not the historic length of his tenure here, but how completely filled with accomplishments that time has been.

“But let’s back up for a moment. It wasn’t always obvious that our friend would become a star U.S. Senator. At one point, it looked like another kind of stardom might be more probable. And I’m not just talking about the successful law practice he set aside to run for office. We all know about Orrin’s musical talent and his contributions to the recording industry. And I am told that, just a few years before Orrin’s first campaign in 1976, the lawyer and family man was moonlighting as band manager for a groundbreaking Mormon folk group called ‘The Free Agency.’

“Well, it’s fortunate for all of us that this free agent felt called to bring his talents here to Washington. There’s a famous story from that first campaign in 1976. Orrin had no political experience. A stranger to running for office. But he had this sense that public service was his mission. Perhaps he was thinking of his beloved big brother Jesse, who gave his life in World War II when Orrin was just ten. He started asking around: Did his friends and family think he had a shot at a Senate seat? Few liked his chances in the primary. Even fewer, against the three-term incumbent. But the worst reaction of all came from his beloved wife Elaine.

“The story goes, when Orrin filed his papers to run, she cried for three days straight. I’m not sure whether that was unhappiness at the prospect of an East Coast life they hadn’t planned for, or a fairly accurate assessment of his chances at that point. But Orrin beat the odds. With the help of a big endorsement from a former California Governor named Ronald Reagan, this young, conservative upstart pulled off the upset.

“Actually, there’s a little secret surrounding this endorsement. Few people know this, but I’m sorry to say, Orrin was actually the Gipper’s second choice. You see, our friend was so unknown that Reagan’s first telegram offered a ringing endorsement of somebody called ‘Warren Hatch.’ Happily, the error was quickly corrected. Orrin earned Utah’s trust and found his way here to this chamber.

“Some of his new Senate peers thought their new colleague should lay low and keep quiet about his principles. They had no idea what they were in for. This Pittsburgh-born son of a metal lather was ready for action. Orrin was once an amateur boxer, and he came ready to brawl. In his very first term, he decided he had to take down this far-left ‘Labor Law Reform’ effort that would have hurt free enterprise and future prosperity. So he took on a couple of heavyweights -- Senator Robert Byrd plus George Meany and the whole machinery of Big Labor.

“This freshman became the public face and the private backbone of the opposition. It was an epic showdown. Orrin worked 18-hour days. He taught his whole staff how to draft amendments. He gave pep talks to his ragtag bipartisan band of brothers -- Dick Lugar, Howard Baker, Fritz Hollings from across the aisle -- trying to keep everyone in the boat. And it worked. They withstood six cloture votes, breaking the record for a single bill. They won. And American prosperity was kept safe from a big power grab by union bosses.

“It only seems fitting, decades later, the other end of Orrin’s Senate tenure would also be marked by a major, hard-won, right-of-center accomplishment to help advance prosperity for all Americans. Orrin has chaired three of the Senate’s most distinguished and critical committees -- HELP, Judiciary, and most recently, Finance. And this Congress, as Finance chairman, he led the charge to deliver once-in-a-generation tax relief to middle-class American families and tax reform to American job creators. More late nights. More painstaking negotiation. Chairman Hatch had to thread the needle, attending carefully to his colleagues’ needs and keeping his eyes on the prize. And once again -- he got it done.

“What about the decades in between those big bookmarks? First and foremost may be Senator Hatch’s special devotion to the federal judiciary -- to its essential role in our constitutional order, and to its need for the highest-quality personnel. Well, over his Senate tenure, Orrin has participated in the confirmation of more than half of all the Article III judges who have served the United States of America in our nation’s history. Let me say that again: Orrin has met with, studied up on, questioned, or at least voted on more than half of all the federal judges in American history.

“That includes all nine members of the current Supreme Court. When he’s supported a particular nominee -- such as Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh -- Orrin has been a leading champion of their cause, even in the face of unfair slights and smears. And even in cases when he’s felt compelled to vote against nominees, he’s treated them and the process itself with the respect and dignity that it is due. The pile of Orrin’s legislative victories is almost as high as that tower of distinguished judges. And many of them are defined by one signature thread that connects much of his proudest work: His great care for -- and commitment to serve -- the most vulnerable members of our society.

“The State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Americans With Disabilities Act. Hatch-Waxman, for generic drugs. Some of the earliest work funding AIDS research. Even his very recent work to designate ‘6-1-1’ as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“So Orrin has led a bit of a ‘double life’ here in the Senate. And I mean that in the best possible way. He’s been every bit the principled fighter, as advertised. He’s led the charge often and hasn’t flinched from the big battles. But at the very same time, there was Orrin, constantly working quietly behind the scenes and across the aisle to tick off victories for vulnerable Americans who could easily have been left behind.

“One perfect illustration of this was Orrin’s friendship with the late Ted Kennedy. For many of the years they spent here in the Senate, it seemed like they managed to rank among each other’s closer friends, top collaborators, and most persistent sparring partners all at the same time. But that’s Orrin. He loves the give and take. He loves to discuss and debate. His colleagues and his staff can rely on him equally to sit down and talk at length if they see an issue differently than he does. He does not dismiss or overrule. He wants to learn, to persuade, and to be persuaded.

“No wonder Orrin’s peers are so fond of him, and his team is so loyal to him. I’m thinking especially of Ruthie Montoya, Orrin’s scheduler for more than three decades -- a member of the Senate family in her own right. But really, you can’t help but respect Orrin. Because his own respect -- for this institution, and for the dignity of every individual he meets -- is so evident.

“Utahns know this better than anyone. They know they can run into their senior Senator on the sidewalk, or out shopping, and he will stop and listen carefully to their thoughts and concerns and life story -- maybe over a Costco hot dog. And he will take all of it to heart. And how could this be surprising? This distinguished statesman grew up modestly. His mother had her hands full raising seven children and his father supported the family with his work as a metal lather.

“The hours were long. The work was hard. But the life lessons were invaluable. Orrin worked his way through college and law school. When his scholarship didn’t prove quite enough to support a young family, he worked nights as a janitor and attendant -- and still graduated with honors. That education has carried Orrin far. But not as far as something else he gained in college. It was in one BYU classroom that providence did Orrin a great favor -- with an assist from alphabetical order. Because ‘Hatch -- comma -- Orrin’ came right after ‘Hansen -- comma -- Elaine,’ he found himself seated next to this pretty young lady, and struck up a conversation.

“That seating chart kicked off a blessed marriage of sixty-plus years and counting. Not every young husband would have left a successful law practice on the East Coast and started over in Utah to be closer to his wife’s family. Not every wife and mother would tolerate – let alone encourage and support – half a lifetime of public service two thousand miles from where they’d planned to call home. That loving partnership has brought six children, 23 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren. Orrin’s been known to refer to this brood as ‘the Hatchlings.’

“So it’s our hope that the Senate’s great loss upon Orrin’s retirement will at least be this great family’s loving gain. We are sad to bid farewell to our artist-in-residence and his platinum records. To this former all-star missionary and LDS bishop who still practices what he preached. To this living example of the American dream at its most extraordinary. This Pittsburgh fighter who climbed up from working poverty and became ‘The Gentleman of the Senate’ -- where he dedicated his work to strengthening that ladder for the generations that would follow.

“Orrin has been so generous to his colleagues, to this institution, to the state and the nation he’s served. He has given us so much. He retires with great congratulations on a most distinguished career, and our very warmest wishes for a peaceful and happy retirement.”

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