Subway Series: In Flight With Orrin Hatch

Longtime Utah Republican on Conservatism, Mitt Romney, and Obama

March 10, 2011 -- Orrin Hatch has kept his Senate career aloft through 34 years and six elections. He's not about to let Tea Party activists crash it now.

So even though he famously worked across the aisle with his friend Ted Kennedy, and voted for the Wall Street bailout in 2008, Hatch, the Utah Republican, has a simple message he wants to send to the Tea Party.

"I tell them to just look at those people who were on Captain Sullenberger's plane and landed in the Hudson," Hatch told ABC's Jonathan Karl in a Subway Series interview. "They survived because of experience. And that's what I have. I have experience that by any measure is conservative and staunchly conservative."

Watch Jonathan Karl's interview with Senator Orrin Hatch here.

Hatch saw his friend and former colleague, now-former Sen. Bob Bennett, lose a Utah Republican primary last year and he's in no mood to taste that tea.

He has worked hard in recent months to endear himself to conservative activists and the Tea Party. Hatch, a Mormon who is notoriously polite and soft-spoken on Capitol Hill, has also taken a harder edge in criticizing President Obama.

Last week he told a group of Utah students that the President's health care law is a "one-size-fits-all federal government dumb-ass program," he said, according to the Utah State University Statesman. "It really is an awful piece of crap."

Hatch apologized for using the strong (for him) language, but said there are even tougher sentiments bottled up inside.

Subway Series: Sen. Orrin Hatch and the Tea Party

"Well, I really shouldn't have made those statements. You should hear what I really think about those programs," he said.

"I don't talk like that very often but I have to admit I actually feel more deeply about it than those two words. It is so bad what they're trying to saddle the American public with and the American people with that you can't use bad enough words really. It is really something that is going to bankrupt our country," he said.

Hatch accused President Obama of being a "soft leader" on everything from Guantanamo Bay to the budget fight. He called Capitol Hill budget negotiations "a joke."

"Tell me the last time the President really led us," Hatch said. "He always sits back and let's Congress do the dirty work and he doesn't get involved. It takes Presidential leadership to work on the entitlement programs and he's unwilling, totally unwilling to do anything about it."

Hatch said that while the President appointed a deficit commission that suggested simplifying the tax code and cutting entitlement spending, he ignored the recommendations. Another "joke."

"Oh yeah he appointed (the debt commission)," Hatch said. "And… he ignored everything that they did. Tell me he didn't. He did. He didn't take one idea out of budget commission and it's just a joke. It's just another way of saying you do it, I don't want to do it because I don't want to face the consequences if I do it."

Another example: public financing for NPR and PBS. While he has voted in favor of funding public broadcasting in the past and gives high praise to Ken Burns documentaries in particular, Hatch said after a top fundraising executive was caught on tape calling the Tea Party "racist" and "xenophobic," public broadcasting ought to be able to support itself.

"I felt, listening to that man, he was way off base, and to slander everybody in the Tea Party was just absolutely despicable," Hatch said.

But Hatch said he has not changed for the Tea Party. He's always been conservative.

And to people who say he's not conservative enough?

"Well, they didn't see me lead labor law reform, I guess, back in the '70s. They didn't see me do all kinds of other things. No, I haven't changed. If you look at it, I've always had a pretty solid conservative voting record," he said, rattling off ratings from conservative groups. "You add it all up, it's pretty hard to say I'm not a right-wing conservative."

Hatch said even conservatives have to make deals on Capitol Hill. "I do believe that one thing that's lacking around here is the ability to bring both sides together," he said.

And in that way he is perhaps like his preferred potential Republican Presidential contender.

There are two Mormons mulling candidacies, and Hatch sits squarely in the camp of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who also faces questions from the party faithful about his conservative bona fides.

"Romney basically is a conservative, there's no question about that," said Hatch. "But he's a smart conservative. He's somebody who's practical. He has the economic wherewithal and ability to take this country over and do for it what it really needs to be done. And he has the guts to do it. And that's important in my eyes. I contrast that with President Obama."

Hatch said he could support the other Mormon, U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, "if he came through."

Huntsman would have to survive the fact that he spent the past two years working for a Democratic President as an ambassador – something President Obama pointed out during a Chinese state visit. That was a calculated and savvy move by the President, according to Hatch.

"The President just slammed (Huntsman) pretty hard by saying that he's been a wonderful ambassador for his wing, right?" asked Hatch. "I'm sure John Huntsman was very efficient but I've got to give the President credit, he's really good at slamming people with a soft touch that when you pick yourself up you wonder what hit you."