Sen. Orrin Hatch was honored Saturday night by Utah’s business community for his decades of public service, but the outgoing senator said there are “a number of things” he’d like to see happen before he retires at the end of the year.
“I think we can get things done on immigration,” Hatch told reporters before the Salt Lake Chamber’s annual “Giant in Our City” gala.
“We ought to be able to have our laws obeyed, but also have a certain amount of compassion for people who are spending their lives trying to be here with us,” he said.
“Anybody who has any brains wants to come to America. That’s a tribute to us, not a criticism,” Hatch said.
The 84-year-old will retire this year after seven terms in the Senate. He declined to comment on the race to fill his seat, saying only that he would endorse whichever Republican wins the June 26 primary.
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, who also decided not to seek reelection this year, gave the keynote address at the event. He said Hatch is “among the most civil and decent leaders that our country has been blessed with” who is “universally respected by Republicans and Democrats alike.”
“He has never, ever sought to demonize the other side,” Ryan said. “He knows that while his political opponents may have different ideas, it doesn’t make them bad people.”
In his speech, Ryan quoted a passage from the Book of Mormon and poked fun at Hatch’s age and savvy social media presence, joking that the “well-seasoned” senator sent his first press release via carrier pigeon.
In remarks near the end of the event, Hatch called it “one of the most humbling experiences of my life” and reflected on his upbringing in a poor family from Pittsburgh.
“Only in a nation like ours could someone like me, a scrappy son of a simple metal lather, grow up to become a United States Senator,” he said.
“This country gave me the opportunity to escape the poverty of my youth. In return, I’ve made it my life’s mission to expand opportunity for others,” said Hatch. “Looking back on more than four decades of public service, I can confidently say that I have accomplished that goal.”
“I still have a few months left,” Hatch said, “and I’m going to cause a lot of problems back there.”