Trump moves to block Romney from the Senate
Donald Trump is going all out to persuade seven-term Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch to seek reelection — a push aimed in no small part at keeping the president’s longtime nemesis, Mitt Romney, out of the Senate.
Romney has been preparing to run for Hatch’s seat on the long-held assumption that the 83-year-old would retire. Yet Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, is now refusing to rule out another campaign — a circumstance Romney’s infuriated inner circle blames squarely on the president. Their suspicions are warranted: Trump has sounded off to friends about how he doesn’t like the idea of a Senator Romney.
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The president’s mostly behind-the-scenes campaign to sway Hatch will burst into public view on Monday, when he arrives in Salt Lake City to hold a well-choreographed event designed to showcase his affection for the powerful Senate Finance Committee chairman.
Trump’s appearance is ostensibly official in purpose: He will announce his decision to reduce the size of Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante national monuments, a cause that Hatch has championed. But it’s also undeniably political: To use the trappings of presidential power to get a veteran lawmaker to rethink his long anticipated plans to leave the Senate.
Trump is slated to ride with Hatch both ways on Air Force One — a total of roughly nine hours round-trip. After descending from the plane together, the two will meet with Mormon leaders and then head to the state capitol for the signing of the executive order, according to three White House officials. Hatch will introduce Trump, who in turn is expected to lavish praise on the senator. After the order is signed, Hatch is expected to receive the president’s pen.
The public display of affection isn’t just about blocking Romney, senior administration officials say. Trump has felt loyal to Hatch since the senator defended him in the wake of the “Access Hollywood” tape episode late in the 2016 campaign. Hatch stuck by Trump even as other members of Utah’s Republican delegation withdrew their support.
More recently, Hatch has played a key role in moving Trump’s prized tax reform bill through the Senate.
Trump aides say the president’s bond with Hatch began long before Romney emerged as a potential successor. Hatch visited Trump in the Oval Office during the first week of his presidency for a lengthy discussion about the then-vacant Supreme Court seat and Utah’s national monuments.
Yet people close to Romney are convinced that Trump’s main motivation is to keep the 2012 GOP presidential nominee out of the Senate. Romney himself has expressed frustration with the ongoing uncertainty about Hatch’s plans, said three Republicans who’ve spoken with him recently. The former Massachusetts governor has pointed out that it was Hatch who urged him to consider running in the first place, but now appears to be wavering on whether to step aside.
“Hatch is a known entity for Trump and has been really good for the president for the most part,” said Kirk Jowers, a friend of Romney who formerly served as the chairman and general counsel of his political action committee. “He knows for a fact he’s not going to get that with Romney. I don’t know that he knows what he’s going to get with Romney, but it’s not going to be what he’s got with Hatch.”
Indeed, there’s widespread concern within the White House that Romney in the Senate could make Trump’s life difficult. During the 2016 campaign, the former Massachusetts governor emerged as the de-facto leader of the GOP establishment’s “Never Trump” campaign, delivering a nationally-watched speech in which he blasted candidate Trump as a “phony, a fraud” and implored the party to stop him.
Hatch, by contrast, went all-in for Trump in Utah, where Trump received just 46 percent of the vote but still carried the state because of a third-party candidate. Before the election, the senator also campaigned for Trump in four states, hitting the trail with the candidate’s son, Donald Trump Jr. While many Republicans air their issues with Trump publicly, Hatch has usually chosen to telegraph his concerns in private discussions with the president.
“I’ll just put it this way. Sen. Hatch was one of the leading voices for the president during the entire campaign,” said Don Peay, a Trump family friend who led his Utah campaign. “Hatch clearly was a strong supporter of Trump from the beginning,” said Peay, who helped to organize Monday’s event.
Trump’s push to get Hatch to run for an eighth term has taken place in furtive phone calls and West Wing visits. In early October, the senator called the president to invite him to Utah to announce his monument plan, said one person briefed on the discussion.
Near the end of the call, the president conveyed a request. “Orrin,” he said, “I really hope you will consider running again.”
Hatch told Trump he hadn’t made up his mind.
Their mutual endearment has at time been public. When Hatch was asked last week by reporters about Trump’s decision to retweet several anti-Muslim videos, the senator said he wasn’t “aware” of the firestorm — and then praised Trump.