Update: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivered the official White House's statement on Hatch's retirement announcement at today's press briefing.
"The president has the greatest and deepest respect for Hatch and his four decades of leadership in the Senate," she said.
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After months of will-he-or-won’t-he speculation – and on the heels of the Republican victory on tax reform, and effort that he helped supervise and lead – Utah Senator and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said Tuesday that he will retire when his term ends at the end of this year. Hatch, who as the longest serving Republican member of the Senate also served as President Pro Tempore, had been expected to decide by the end of 2017.
His decision to step aside leaves an opening for former Massachusetts Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to run for Hatch's soon-to-be-vacant seat. Hatch was first elected to the senate in 1976 on a promise to campaign for legislative term limits.
Hatch had waffled on whether he would seek an eighth term or retire at the end of 2018. In recent weeks he appeared to be signaling that he would run for another term.
However, his involvement with the Trump tax plan recently made him the target of a scathingly sarcastic editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune that jokingly labeled him "Utahn of the Year." Hatch seemed to laugh off the editorial, a response that raised questions about whether he understood its contents.
As the SLT pointed out, three-quarters of Utahns don’t want him to run again, and, at 83, his age has raised questions about his ability to continue doing the job.
But his ability to coax President Trump to fly to Utah last month to praise Hatch even as the tax-reform battle was raging has earned him a newfound relevance in the contemporary Republican power structure.
Romney now has until March 15 to file to run for Hatch's seat.