Orrin Hatch, Utah Senator, to Retire, Opening Path for Mitt Romney

Mr. Hatch’s decision clears the way for the political resurrection of Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee who is now a Utah resident and popular in the Mormon-heavy state. Mr. Romney has told associates he would likely run if Mr. Hatch retires.

“It would be difficult to defeat Mitt Romney if he were running here,” said David Hansen, a longtime Utah Republican strategist and chairman of Mr. Hatch’s political organization.

In a statement he posted on Facebook, Mr. Romney made no mention of his intentions; he only saluted Mr. Hatch.

”As Chairman of the Senate Finance and Judiciary Committees and as the longest-serving Republican Senator in U.S. history, Senator Hatch has represented the interests of Utah with distinction and honor,” he said.

Mr. Romney intends to make his intentions known in a matter of weeks, according to an adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity. His senior campaign team will include Matt Waldrip, who had been running Mr. Romney’s annual policy retreats; a longtime fund-raiser, Spencer Zwick; and his former chief of staff, Beth Myers.

Mr. Zwick did not confirm Mr. Romney would enter the race, but said, “of all the people who can run, Mitt will represent and honor the legacy of Senator Hatch more than anybody.”

As for fidelity to Mr. Trump, Mr. Zwick was more restrained.

“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,” he said.

Mr. Romney had been operating under the assumption that the senator would run again. As of Monday, while skiing with friends in Utah, he did not bring up the possibility of a campaign.

That is in part because Mr. Hatch had privately told Mr. Romney he was not sure he was ready to leave a seat he has held since 1977, and White House officials did all they could to nudge him into another campaign. Last month, Mr. Trump flew with Mr. Hatch on Air Force One to Utah for a day of events aimed entirely at lobbying the senator to run again.

Mr. Trump announced he was vastly shrinking two of Utah’s sprawling national monuments, reversing decisions made by Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, at the request of the senator. And the president used a speech in Salt Lake City to say that he hoped Mr. Hatch would “continue to serve your state and your country in the Senate for a very long time to come.”

The senator returned the favor at the White House when Mr. Trump signed the tax measure, calling him “one heck of a leader.”

“We are going to make this the greatest presidency we have seen, not only in generations, but maybe ever,” Mr. Hatch said.

The president has had Mr. Romney on his mind. Over golf, Mr. Trump asked Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, what he thought of the former Republican nominee. (Mr. Graham said he praised Mr. Romney and predicted he would be a solid senator.)

Mr. Romney repeatedly assailed the president during the 2016 campaign, calling Mr. Trump “a fraud,” and Mr. Trump shot back, stating that Mr. Romney “choked like a dog” in the 2012 race. The two had something of a rapprochement after the election when Mr. Romney was briefly considered as secretary of state, but White House advisers are reportedly uneasy about having such a well-known critic in the Senate.

As the president prodded Mr. Hatch to stay, voices in his home state were urging him to go. On Christmas Day, The Salt Lake Tribune named the senator “Utahn of the Year,” but not for flattering reasons.

“It would be good for Utah if Hatch, having finally caught the Great White Whale of tax reform, were to call it a career. If he doesn’t, the voters should end it for him,” the editorial concluded.

In announcing his retirement, Mr. Hatch joined an exodus of Republican heavyweights in what promises to be a difficult election season. Also on Tuesday, Representative Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, told the Washington Examiner that he planned to retire at year’s end. Mr. Shuster, 56, was facing a possible primary challenge from the right and said his decision would allow him to focus exclusively on trying to steer major infrastructure legislation, a long-sought bipartisan priority, into law.

Other retiring House chairmen include Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, of the Judiciary Committee; Jeb Hensarling of Texas, of the Financial Services Committee; and Lamar Smith of Texas, of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

In all, 33 House Republicans have announced they will retire or run for another office, compared to 16 Democrats. Mr. Hatch joined Republican Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona in announcing an end to his Senate career.

Mr. Hatch defeated a Democrat 42 years ago this November, arguing that the incumbent had stayed in Washington too long, and became one of the country’s most prominent senators for a generation. While he usually voted a conservative line, he also developed close relationships with his Democratic colleagues, most famously with Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. In the 1990s, the two collaborated on what became a landmark health care plan, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Mr. Hatch negotiated a bipartisan expansion of CHIP in 2008, paid for by an increase in the federal tobacco tax, that was signed into law by President Barack Obama in the opening months of his White House.

“Orrin’s long list of accomplishments means he will depart as one of the most productive members ever to serve in this body,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “But even more than what Orrin did, his friends and colleagues here will remember how he did it. We’ll remember the unfailing energy, kindness, and straightforward honesty that he brought to work every day.”

Like many senators before and since, Mr. Hatch gave into temptation and mounted a presidential bid, seeking the 2000 Republican nomination. But he found little traction and withdrew from the race immediately after receiving just one percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses.

In his retirement announcement, Mr. Hatch dwelled on his long record, which includes popular, bipartisan initiatives like CHIP and the Americans With Disabilities Act, as well as more partisan achievements, like his prominent role in the confirmation of Supreme Court justices and his authorship of last month’s tax law, which passed without a Democratic vote.

“Only in a nation like ours could someone like me — the scrappy son of a simple carpenter — grow up to become a United States senator,” he said, addressing Utah voters. “As your senator, I’ve always sought to fight for those who could not fight for themselves. And I believe the results speak for themselves.”

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