Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the longest-serving GOP senator in U.S. history, announced Tuesday that he’ll retire at the end of his term — a decision that could clear the path for Mitt Romney to replace him in the Senate.

Hatch, 83, made the announcement in a video posted to Twitter. Hatch’s retirement comes despite President Trump’s public encouragement for Hatch to run for reelection.

“I’ve always been a fighter. I was an amateur boxer in my youth, and I brought that fighting spirit with me to Washington,” Hatch said in the video. “But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching.”

The 83-year-old senator appeared to be signaling in recent weeks that he’d run for an eighth term in 2018, even though he previously said he’d retire when his term is up in January 2019.

{mosads}The powerful Senate Finance Committee chairman played a significant role in helping Republicans pass a major tax overhaul and was also integral in the White House’s decision to shrink two national monuments in Utah. And Trump has been showering praise on Hatch, who he called a “true fighter” during a Salt Lake City speech in early December.

Hatch said he made the decision to retire to spend more time with his family.

“After much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I’ve decided to retire at the end of this term,” Hatch said. “Although I will miss serving you in the Senate, I look forward to spending more time with family, especially my sweet wife Elaine, whose unwavering love and support made all of this possible.”

Despite support from Trump, Hatch was under some pressure to retire.

His decision comes after The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah’s largest newspaper, published a scathing Christmas Day editorial calling on him to leave the seat. The editorial board wrote that he has an “utter lack of integrity” that comes from “his unquenchable thirst for power.”

The spotlight now shifts to Romney, who has been reportedly eyeing a Senate bid only if Hatch retired. The 2012 GOP presidential nominee is expected to be able to clear the field since he remains highly popular in Utah. Romney, a Mormon, has strong ties to the state and helped lead the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

Trump and some of his allies, including former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, were reportedly looking to block the former Massachusetts governor from running by encouraging Hatch to stay in the seat.

Romney clashed with Trump during the 2016 election, calling the then-GOP presidential candidate a “phony” and a “fraud.” And more recently, Romney condemned failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore after Trump endorsed him amid sexual misconduct allegations.

It’s unclear when Romney will decide whether or not he jumps back into the political arena, but he has until March 15 to file for Hatch’s seat.

“I haven’t spoken directly to the governor about his intentions, but I do think he maintains a desire to serve the public,” Ryan Williams, a former aide to Romney’s presidential campaign, told The Hill last week. “I think if an opportunity arose he would seriously consider it.”

Tags Donald Trump Mitt Romney Mitt Romney Orrin Hatch Retirement Roy Moore Utah
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