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Art of Hatch(ing) the Deal

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wants to make a deal.

An ardent conservative and one of the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s most prolific fundraisers, Hatch also is a Senate institutionalist who wants to use the friendships he’s forged with leading liberals over 33 years to stay relevant and get things done.

“I think he tries to do what he believes is the right thing. And so when he gets involved in an issue, if he believes that it’s right, he stands by that,” said Sen. John Ensign (Nev.), who tapped Hatch in the past cycle as his top lieutenant at the NRSC, of which he was then the chairman. “Some of the things in the past that he’s done with Ted Kennedy, it’s just sometimes he gets in it and he believes in it, and he stays with it.”

As President Barack Obama looks to build Republican support for big-ticket legislative initiatives such as a health care overhaul — as well as avoid a partisan meltdown over judicial nominations and a possible Supreme Court nominee — he will likely at least give Hatch a phone call to gauge his position.

Hatch was one of the first rank-and-file Republican Senators summoned to the White House for a meeting with the president just after Inauguration Day. However, Hatch’s penchant for deal-making has its limits: He is passionately opposed to Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill.

“I really do try and work with some of my colleagues,” Hatch said. But he was quick to add: “They know if they really get me irritated and they get me mad, that I know how to shut this place down, and I’ve done it from time to time.”

Hatch’s close relationships with leading liberals such as Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), combined with the respect he carries within the GOP Conference, leave him uniquely suited to operate at the center of complicated and potentially explosive negotiations over issues like health care and judicial nominations — two areas on which he has expertise.

One former Republican Senate leadership aide said Hatch is likely to be a key negotiator on several of the Senate’s upcoming legislative endeavors over the next two years. “He’s going to be a big deal; he’s pivotal,” this former aide said.

Despite strong conservative credentials on most social and fiscal matters, Hatch’s six Senate terms have been marked by his willingness to compromise with the likes of Obama, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Kennedy — hardly among the Democratic Party’s moderates.

As Obama faced trouble with top Cabinet appointees, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Attorney General Eric Holder and former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) — who ended up dropping his bid to become Health and Human Services secretary — it was Hatch who defended the president and his picks.

Holder faced early criticism for his role in several controversial Clinton-era pardons, while Geithner and Daschle were beleaguered by a failure to properly pay their taxes.

But Hatch argued publicly and vociferously for their confirmations. He lauded each nominee’s credentials and expressed a desire to reduce partisanship by, in his view, treating Obama better than Democrats treated former President George W. Bush.

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