President Trump is encouraging longtime Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchBottom line Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) to run for reelection, amid major speculation that he’ll retire in 2018 and open the way for former presidential hopeful Mitt Romney to take his seat.
While traveling in Utah on Monday, pool reporters asked if Trump was urging the 83-year-old senator to run for an eighth term next year. Trump gave a one-word reply: “Yes.”
When asked if he was sending a message to Romney, who was an outspoken critic of Trump during the 2016 campaign, that he doesn’t want him to run, Trump paused and said, “He’s a good man. Mitt’s a good man.”
Reports have recently surfaced that Trump wants to prevent Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, from mounting a Senate bid in the deep-red state.
Trump followed up with more praise for Hatch during his Monday speech in Utah, calling the powerful Senate Finance Committee chairman a “true fighter” and crediting Hatch with helping to pass the GOP’s tax bill in the upper chamber late last week.
“We hope you will continue to serve your state and the country in the Senate for a very long time to come,” Trump said in his speech in Salt Lake City.
Hatch’s office sent a statement thanking Trump for the endorsement and reiterating that the Utah Republican will make a decision by years-end. The filing deadline is March 15.
“The Senator appreciates the President’s support and plans to make a decision on whether or not to run again by the end of the year,” Matt Whitlock, Hatch’s spokesman, said in a statement to The Hill.
Rumors over whether or not Hatch, the longest-serving GOP senator in U.S. history, will retire have swirled since late last year.
In the past, Hatch has said he’d retire at the end of his term in 2018, but it appears he’s been reconsidering and Trump and Senate leadership have been urging him to run all year.
Romney was a vocal part of the “Never Trump” movement during the campaign, but the two appeared to mend some fences when Romney was being considered for secretary of State, though he ended up not getting the prestigious post.
The former Massachusetts governor has been reportedly eyeing a Senate bid if Hatch retires next year. Romney, a Mormon, has deep roots in Utah and played a lead role in helping with the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
Hatch told National Journal in March that he’s “expressed interest” to Romney about replacing him if he decides not to run for reelection. And a report from The Atlantic in October said that Romney had spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE (R-Ky.) and personal advisers about a potential campaign.
Other lawmakers, including Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveThe biggest political upsets of the decade Former GOP lawmaker: Trump’s tweets have to stop Congressional Women’s Softball team releases roster MORE (R-Utah), are apparently encouraging Romney behind the scenes to run if Hatch bows out of the race.
But Hatch and his team have pushed back on reports that he plans to retire to make way for Romney as his replacement.
Whitlock tweeted on Sunday that Trump has never discussed other candidates with Hatch and that the president wants Hatch to run because of his “ability to legislate.”
Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who is wading into most 2018 Senate races, is also reportedly considering an endorsement of Hatch in an attempt to pre-empt a Romney bid.
“If Steve had a choice between Orrin Hatch and Mitt Romney, he would pick Hatch 10 times out of 10,” a source close to Bannon told the Washington Examiner.
Whitlock also debunked part of the Examiner’s reporting that Hatch advisers reached out to the Breitbart News head and discussed 2018.
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Hatch’s spokesman tweeted that no official or campaign adviser to Hatch has reached out to Bannon or anyone in his orbit, adding that if any friends or associates of Hatch’s had contacted Bannon, they did it “on their own.”
But even if Hatch decides to run, Utahans appear to want this to be his last term in the Senate. A poll from August found that more than three-quarters of voters in Utah want Hatch to retire.