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Orrin Hatch, the Senate's longest-serving Republican, dies at 88

By Calley Hair
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Orrin Hatch, the Senate's longest-serving Republican, dies at 88
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, pictured in Washington, D.C. on July 11, 2018, died Saturday in Salt Lake City at 88 years old. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

April 23 (UPI) -- Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate's history, died at 88 years old in Salt Lake City on Saturday.

A member of the chamber for 42 years, Hatch was a crusader for right-wing causes and played an influential role installing a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

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Hatch was born during the Great Depression in Pittsburgh, one of nine children living in an impoverished household. He served as a Mormon bishop before being elected to the Senate in 1977, where he'd remain until his retirement in 2019.

Data recorded by the Library of Congress indicates that Hatch sponsored or cosponsored 790 pieces of legislation signed into law, the most prolific record in the Senate at the time. By his retirement, he served as Senate president pro tempore and chaired the chamber's Finance Committee.

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His record was so lengthy in part because he was willing to work across the aisle. One of his most influential pieces of legislation was the Children's Health Insurance Program, which he shepherded into law alongside Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and frequent collaborator. CHIP would eventually help cut the percentage of uninsured children in the United States by more than half.

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"He was a tough partisan, a solid conservative, but he could make strategic alliances to get legislation passed," former Senate historian Donald Ritchie told The Washington Post. "No one questioned his ideology, so he could deal. People on his side of the aisle trusted him, and people on the other side respected him."

On social issues, Hatch was a hardline conservative. He opposed same-sex marriage, voted against the Equal Rights Amendment and proposed a Constitutional amendment to make abortion illegal. He used the filibuster to block housing and labor bills, and held far-right views on gun control and immigration.

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He spoke out against what he considered to be the country's declining moral values.

"I was convinced that someone needed to stand against these trends," he wrote in his 2003 memoir. "Someone needed to point out the deterioration of our moral fiber, the proliferation and increasing acceptance of drugs and crime, the expansion of the welfare state."

Over the course of his career, Hatch advised seven presidents and confirmed nine Supreme Court Justices. He announced his retirement in 2018, clearing the way for former Massachusetts governor and 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney to launch a campaign and win his seat.

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A statement from The Hatch Foundation confirmed the senator's death on Saturday, though it didn't specify a cause.

"From tax and trade to religious liberty and healthcare, few legislators have had a greater impact on American life than Orrin Hatch. He was a profoundly positive influence in the lives of those he served," said Matt Sandgren, the foundation's executive director.

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