In slap at Romney, Trump says he wants Hatch to run for re-election

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Monday he wants U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah to run for re-election next year, putting Trump on a collision course with Republican rival Mitt Romney, who wants to run for Hatch’s seat.

U.S. President Donald Trump is greeted by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) prior to speaking at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Hatch, 83, has made noises about retiring from the Senate seat he has held since 1977. Republican officials say Romney, a Utah resident who was the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, has been preparing to run for Hatch’s seat next year.

But Trump, who has clashed with Romney in the past, said he wants Hatch to run for re-election.

“You are a true fighter, Orrin, I have to say,” Trump said at an event in Salt Lake City, Utah’s capital. “We hope you will continue to serve your state and your country in the Senate for a very long time to come.”

Asked if he was going seek re-election, Hatch told reporters: “We’ll have to see.” He called Trump’s endorsement “certainly is a nice thing,” but did not say whether it would influence his decision.

Romney, 70, a former governor of Massachusetts who spends a great deal of time in Utah, has been expecting to run for Hatch’s seat in a state that Republicans typically win.

Romney made clear that he took a dim view of Trump’s endorsement on Monday of Republican Roy Moore for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama that will be decided in a special election next week.

Moore has been accused by at least seven women of sexual improprieties they said occurred decades ago. Several were teenagers at the time. Moore has denied the accusations and said he is the victim of a witch hunt.

“Roy Moore in the US Senate would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation,” Romney wrote on Twitter. “Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.”

Trump considered picking Romney as his secretary of state a year ago but opted instead for Rex Tillerson. In August, Romney demanded Trump apologize for saying that both sides were to blame for violence at a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump did not apologize.

Trump demurred on Monday when asked whether he was trying to send Romney a message by encouraging Hatch to run again.

“He’s a good man. Mitt’s a good man,” Trump said.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler