- The Washington Times - Monday, April 25, 2022

Orrin G. Hatch was standing right behind him when President Clinton signed a landmark piece of religious freedom legislation into law in 1993.

The Mormon senator from Utah had teamed up with Rep. Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat from Brooklyn, to pass the bill, which has become the key check on the federal government’s ability to run roughshod over houses of worship.

Several years later, it was Mr. Hatch and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the Democrats’ liberal icon, linking arms to pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program, delivering coverage to tens of millions of children over the years.

There were also partnerships with Rep. Henry Waxman of California, another devoted liberal, to create the modern generic drug industry and to slap the first health warnings on cigarette packs.

It’s hard to imagine any senator today, particularly one as fiercely conservative as Mr. Hatch, wanting to form those sorts of partnerships, much less succeeding with so many of them.

Mr. Hatch died on Saturday in Salt Lake City at age 88. He retired in 2019 after seven terms in the Senate, making him the longest-serving Republican in the chamber’s history.

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Orrin came into the Senate as a young conservative firebrand,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republicans’ leader, said Monday. “He left the Senate as a widely admired and universally liked elder statesman. His legacy is peppered with both big principled victories, bipartisan collaborations, and a roster of friends that spanned the entire political spectrum and sometimes transcended politics altogether.”

Mr. Schumer, now the Democrats’ Senate leader, called Mr. Hatch “a titan, one that will not likely come through this chamber in a long time.”

Mr. Hatch was born outside of Pittsburgh in 1934 in what his foundation described as “humble circumstances,” one of nine children.

He attended Brigham Young University, spent two years on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and earned his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1962. He moved to Utah with his wife, Elaine, in 1969 and won his first-ever political campaign, in 1976, to his Senate seat.

On Capitol Hill, “Ol’ Orrin,” as he called himself, was far less flashy than some of his colleagues, but he amassed one of the more conservative records among senators.

“Everybody liked and respected him, and it’s an end of an era in some ways and reflective of a time in the Senate,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican.

Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican, compared Mr. Hatch to Ronald Reagan, effective leaders who, while conservative, weren’t “angry.”

“Just a gracious, gracious but firm leader,” Mr. Daines said.

President Biden, whose lengthy Senate career overlapped for much of the time with Mr. Hatch’s, paid tribute to the Republican on Sunday and his unique legacy as a legislator. “The greatest perk one has as a senator was access to people with serious minds, a serious sense of purpose, and who cared about something. That was Orrin,” Mr. Biden said in a White House statement. “He was, quite simply, an American original.”

Mr. Hatch was also an accomplished musician and composer who delighted in slipping his latest CD into the hands of reporters.

Former Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi recalled that Mr. Hatch’s “hideaway” office, a perk allotted to senior senators, was across the hall from the Senate chapel. Mr. Hatch had a piano in there and would bang out his compositions.

He was a great musician,” Mr. Lott, no slouch as a singer, told The Washington Times.

Mr. Lott arranged to have one of Mr. Hatch’s works, “Heal Our Land,” performed by Wintley Phipps at President George W. Bush’s 2005 inauguration.

Paul Williams, chairman of the board of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, posted a piece on Billboard.com on Monday praising the senator as a champion for songwriters for his role in strengthening copyright legislation.

Mr. Hatch was also remembered by Jewish media for writing a Hanukkah song — and for wearing a mezuzah around his neck and staunchly supporting Israel.

Disability advocates remembered Mr. Hatch for his role in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Christian media praised him for his role in the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which he passed with Mr. Schumer and Kennedy, and which has become the chief tool for thwarting federal moves that impose burdens on religious practices.

Mr. Hatch’s partnership with Kennedy was legendary in Washington, hammered into younger lawmakers as a model for how to get things done in a partisan town. But there were limits.

When Kennedy died, his wife was looking for a Republican to serve on the board of the Kennedy Institute. She approached Mr. Lott, who said she should talk to Mr. Hatch.

She said she already had but Mr. Hatch was running for reelection and didn’t need that kind of press amid the tea party’s Republican headhunting, Mr. Lott recalled.

Mica Soellner contributed to this report.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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