Utah's senior Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch is wrapping up more than four decades in office at the end of 2018. Until then, the seven-term senator and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is leading the charge to get Pres. Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, confirmed.
KUER spoke with Hatch in his Senate office to discuss his legacy, tilting the Supreme Court to the right and why he thinks Trump deserves a second term.
Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.
N: As you're thinking about retiring and leaving office in a few months, do you feel more worried or more optimistic about the future of this country?
H: Well, I'm worried about it, but I've been worried about it before, during, and really after (my tenure). Because it could go sour with some of the people here. But also, we're so deeply in debt that it's going to take a real effort to pull us out of that mess. I have to say that the Republicans have made some strides in trying to bring the debt down and try to get things under control. But we're still tremendously under debt.
N: You've been in office for seating the entire (Supreme Court) bench. How important is it to you that Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed by the end of the year?
H: I think it's very important because No. 1, he's a very good nominee. I know him personally, I've known him for a long time. He has an excellent record wherever he's been. He's had a wide-ranging record as well. He's a wonderful lawyer and I think he would serve this country with distinction. He's going to go through a rough time because the Democrats are really bitter that they didn't get the presidency. Everybody thought that Hillary was going to win, including me. Well, I really did think that Trump could win. But most people thought Hillary was going to win and that she would probably shove Merrick Garland aside (in favor of a more progressive nominee). I don't think she would have because I wouldn't have let her do that. But because it was a presidential year, Merrick was unable to make it, and I think we're getting good people on the bench now.
N: If Democrats win back the majority this fall or the presidency in 2020, do you expect retaliation for what happened with Merrick Garland?
H: Well I don't think Republicans can be blamed for what happened to Merrick Garland. It was the Democrats themselves who did that, but they will try to blame Republicans for not having put him through right away. But Supreme Court nominations are very, very difficult and they're very partisan sometimes and they're very political.
And on top of all that, some of us take those nominations very, very seriously and we want the best people we can find in both parties to be able to serve on the United States Supreme Court. We know that the court can have tremendous influence throughout our nation in a wide variety of ways.
N: Would you like to see Roe v. Wade overturned?
H: Yes. I think it's a very bad case, but I don't think it's likely to be overturned. It's now 40 years or so since Roe v. Wade came down and I think it would cause such a furor that it might not even be worth it. But yes, I would because I think it's an abysmal case and should never have been decided to begin with. There was no legal basis for deciding it the way it was. But I understand why the other side loves that particular case.
N: I want to ask about Mitt Romney. He is favored to win your seat this November. He has downplayed his differences with Trump, but he has been more vocal in criticizing the president than you have been sometimes. Do you think that Mitt Romney will get along with this administration?
H: I don't have any problem with Mitt Romney finding fault with Donald Trump. When he has, they have generally been reasonable criticisms. Besides, I think Mitt is an exceptional person. It's no secret I went to him and talked him into running because I didn't want some klutz to take my place here in the Senate. Maybe that's the wrong word, but that's the way I feel. (laughs) I want somebody of distinction who just might be able to carry on. And Mitt, by any measure, has that kind of distinctive quality. I think he'll win, but I'm hopeful when he does that he'll take this really, really seriously.
N: What advice would you give to him?
H: I think to take it seriously. To understand that there are three branches of government and that the Senate is only part of one. That the courts are some of the most important issues that we all have to have to work with, and that it's very, very important that we get really, really good people on our courts. It's one of the blessings of Republicans being in control. That we didn't have judges who would pluck out of thin air political issues and make them law, which was what happened with Roe v. Wade.
N: You have been calling for more civility in politics recently. But you have also called people who disagree with you ‘dumbasses’ a couple times in the last few months. So–
H: I shouldn't have done that. I agree, I shouldn't have done that. But I meant it humorously and it wasn't meant to be a scathing criticism. But I shouldn't have even done that humorously. It was a mistake on my part. And I've been beaten up pretty soundly for it, which is probably justified.
N: So why should people take your continued calls for civility in politics seriously?
H: Because I have a reputation as somebody who has gotten along with both sides, who has been able to pass some of the most important legislation in history, who has passed more legislation than anybody currently sitting in Congress, and who has a reputation for civility and decency. Now, that doesn't mean you don't get mad once in a while. It doesn't mean you can't get into fights around here. I'm known for fighting very hard for my positions and for the positions that I believe are correct and true. But I don't slander other people or libel them. I make my case and let it go at that. But I think most people would say that Hatch is pretty civil and everything he does, and he's tough but he's fair.
N: As you look back on your last 40 plus years in office and what do you feel is your biggest accomplishment? And maybe, what is something that you always wanted to get passed but didn't?
H: That's a tough question because some of the accomplishments are negative matters. Take labor law reform. I was a freshman senator. There were 62 Democrats, only 38 Republicans. The Democrat unions wanted this bill at all costs, even though it was a terrible bill. And I had to take it on, and I did, and we defeated it. It was a major, major win. Had we lost that battle, we'd have moved straight to socialism, which I think would have been highly detrimental. So, some of the battles were fights against things.
As far as positive things, there's a whole raft of over 800 bills that I've passed, more than anybody in history. And I'm not bragging about it, I'm just saying that a lot of those bills are extremely important with Utah philosophy throughout. And I feel good about the total body of work that I've done here.
N: In the last two decades, Congress has struggled to find a way to comprehensively address the nation's immigration laws and curb illegal immigration. You were a champion of the DREAM Act originally, which had bipartisan support. But why is it that, this many years later, it still hasn't passed?
H: Well, first of all, they changed it. If they had gone with the original DREAM Act that I had devised I think we would have probably passed it by now. I don't think anybody wants to hold it against the young people who desire to come into this country for hope for a better future. But they changed it, and of course, that then lost my support. And as you can see, we didn't get it passed. And they knew it, they knew that was going to happen. And they knew that I could get it done if they would have just worked with me. But they didn't, and they just wanted to make it more politicized.
N: Is the Republican Party of 2018 no longer pro- or anti-immigration? What do you see as the immigration stance of the Republican Party of today?
H: I think it depends on the bill. I think Republicans could be very pro-immigration if the bill was written correctly and has the proper protections in it. But what the Democrats want to do is just open the gate let anybody come in anytime they want to, and we can't do that. No sovereign nation is going to do that if they have any brains at all.
N: How would you grade the Trump administration halfway through its first term?
H: Well, it's troubled. The Democrats are not going to give an inch on anything, which makes it very, very difficult. But by any measure, you have to give Trump a lot of credit. No. 1, the economy is robust. Everybody said that within a year after he became president, the economy was going to go in the hole. It's robust. Some of the most important legislation in history has been passed.
The judges have been put up and have been very, very good. He took a preferred list of judgeship nominees from the Federalist Society and has stuck with that. And we're getting better judges on the court.
I could go on and on. I think Trump has been a real valuable asset to this country. Whether you like him or not, you've got to admit he's gotten a lot done. And I've been part of that getting it done for him.
N: As divided as the country is right now, do you think that a second term for Donald Trump would be good for the nation?
H: Yeah, I do. I think Trump is a doer. He gets himself in trouble because he says a lot of things that I wish he would say in a different way, and maybe not say at all.
But I'll say this for him: He's a doer. He's somebody who really takes this seriously and who has by any measure accomplished a great deal. Just look at the courts. We are so much better off because he has been able to work with the Federalist Society and with those of us who understand the court system very well in picking judges. Well, that's a third of the separated powers in this country.
And he has curtailed and strengthened the bureaucracy back here so that it works more in the interests of the American people. I mean, I could go on and on. I think by any measure — if you're fair — you have to say, whether you like him or not, that Trump has done a pretty good job. And I, as one who sits right here and watches it very carefully, I can tell you he has.