(CN) – U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, said Tuesday he will not seek an eighth term, opening the door for a possible run by former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Hatch, 83, made the announcement in a video released by his office.
“I was an amateur boxer in my youth, and I brought that fighting spirit with me to Washington. But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching,” Hatch said in the video. “That’s why after much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I’ve decided to retire at the end of this term.”
The announcement ends months of speculation about Hatch’s future.
President Donald Trump aggressively courted the senator, first elected in 1976, to seek re-election and block a route to the Senate by Romney, a harsh critic of the president. Trump visited Utah in December, where he applauded Hatch.
Hatch promised Utah voters in 2012 that this would be his final term, and polling in the state indicates a strong majority wants the senator to retire.
The decision comes weeks after Hatch, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, helped write a tax overhaul that fulfilled a campaign promise by Trump.
Aside from the tax law, Hatch touted during the video announcement other legislative efforts of his lengthy political career, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I join the people of Utah in thanking my friend Sen. Orrin Hatch for his more than 40 years of service to our great state and nation,” Romney said in a statement. “As chairman of the Senate Finance and Judiciary Committees and as the longest-serving Republican Senator in U.S. history, Sen. Hatch has represented the interests of Utah with distinction and honor.”
Hatch’s retirement may clear the way for Romney, a former Massachusetts government and Republican presidential nominee, to run for the seat in a state where he has great popularity.
Trump considered Romney, who now lives in Utah, for secretary of state despite comments during the 2016 presidential campaign that Trump was “a phony, a fraud.” Since then, the former presidential candidate has continued harsh rebukes of the president, including over the response to white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was “sad” to see Hatch go during Tuesday’s daily briefing.
“The president certainly has the greatest and deepest amount of respect for Sen. Hatch and his over four decades of experience in the Senate,” Sanders said. “He is particularly thankful for the senator’s leadership and massive effort that he played and the role that he played in getting the tax cut and reform package passed.”