Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch to retire

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, speaks during the Utah Republican Party 2016 nominating convention. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch announced Tuesday that he won't seek re-election this year, clearing the way for Mitt Romney to return to the national stage by running for his seat.

He said in a social media message, "after much prayer and discussion with family and friends I've decided to retire at the end of this term."

Hatch, the Senate's longest serving Republican, has wrestled with the decision for months, emboldened by the entreaties of President Donald Trump, to seek an eighth term.

During an event last month at the Utah Capitol where Trump celebrated the administration's decision to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, Trump called Hatch "a true fighter" and said he hoped the Republican would continue to serve "in the Senate for a very long time to come."

The 83-year-old Hatch set off retirement rumors early last year when he said in an interview that he hoped to see Romney one day take his place. But he reversed course and repeatedly insisted to reporters that he "intended" to seek re-election. Last month, Hatch reveled in the spotlight as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee while shepherding a massive tax bill through the Senate -- attention, friends and colleagues said, that made him lean toward running again.

If Hatch had opted to stay in the Senate, he could have faced a formidable challenge from a crop of ambitious Utah Republicans. Boyd Matheson, the former chief of staff to Sen. Mike Lee, seriously considered a bid last fall -- going so far as to meet with former Trump strategists Steve Bannon and David Bossie.

The former Mormon missionary compared gay people to Nazis back in 1977 — the year he joined the Senate — and said they shouldn't teach.

The senator has become more moderate since. He doesn't believe in same-sex marriage, but supports civil unions and even voted for 2013's failed Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have banned anti-LGBT bias in America's workplaces.

Disappointingly, Hatch also pushed for President Obama's 2014 executive order banning LGBT+ discrimination among federal contractors to include religious exemptions.

Hatch has voted against almost all LGBT-inclusive bills and has a 16 on HRC's Congressional Scorecard.

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Copyright The Gayly – January 2, 2018 @ 1:30 p.m. CST.