President Dallin H. Oaks, left, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., before the start of former Sen. Orrin Hatch’s funeral at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Friday, May 6, 2022. (Kristin Murphy/The Deseret News via AP, Pool)
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell paid tribute to the late Sen. Orrin Hatch on Friday, celebrating the Utah icon as a principled conservative, committed public servant and man of faith.
Two weeks after Hatch died at age 88 from complications stemming from a stroke, McConnell joined Hatch’s family, friends, former colleagues and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to memorialize the seven-term US senator at a ceremony held at a chapel at the Institute of Religion in Salt Lake City.
“Each piece of legislation Orrin crafted was like a handwritten note. Every bill was an Orrin Hatch ‘Thank you’ to our nation from a caring patriot who wanted to give back,” McConnell said.
McConnell and others honored Hatch’s achievements, which included participating in the hearing confirmations of dozens of federal judges and helping then-President Donald Trump enacting a $1.5 trillion tax cut. They also recognized his hardscrabble origins growing up in Depression-era Pennsylvania, his frugality and his sense of humor.
“He was a bridge-builder, a collaborator, a sports enthusiast, a songwriter, a man of God, and a cherished friend,” Scott Anderson, the chair of Hatch’s foundation, said.
Brent Hatch, the senator’s son, quoted a veteran Utah journalist who called Hatch “the most important Utah politician since Brigham Young.”
Young led Latter-day Saint pioneers to Utah and served as its first territory-era governor.
Hatch’s children remembered their father for his sense of humor, passion for storytelling and love of reasonably priced food, including beef hot dogs from Costco and the buffet at the Utah restaurant chain Chuck-A-Rama.
“He really was larger than life,” his daughter, Marcia Hatch Whetton, said. “Dad had an amazing sense of humor and an infectious laugh.”
First elected in 1976, Hatch ended his seven-term tenure in the US Senate in 2019 as the chamber’s longest serving Republican senator in history. He spent 32 of his 42 years in office as the top ranking Republican on key committees and helped reshape the federal judiciary — including the US Supreme Court — and pass compromise including the Americans with Disabilities Act and Children’s Health Insurance Program.
A stalwart conservative, Hatch championed low taxes and opposed abortion. Early in his career, he frequently took part in compromises with Democrats, notably with his friend, the late Massachusetts Sen. Ed Kennedy, and supported Democratic presidential choices for the Supreme Court, including when then-President Bill Clinton nominated the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993.
Gordon Smith, a former two-term Republican senator from Oregon, called Hatch a mentor and noted his knack for both making and ultimately cutting through it to pass noise legislation.