Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch, met by a mix of cheers and jeers at a conservative gathering Friday in Washington, apologized for his vote for the so-called Wall Street bailout and said he wished he hadn't backed the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
"All I can say is there aren't a lot of people who will say they're sorry. I'm one that will," Hatch told a packed house at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Moments earlier, Hatch was interrupted twice when he tried to explain his 2008 support for the $700 billion TARP, a vote also made by ex-Sen. Bob Bennett that heavily contributed to his defeat.
"To my tea party people, I've told them I do feel badly I did vote for it, on the other hand," Hatch said before a vocal part of the audience began booing, drowning out his answer. "Wait, wait a minute but I also make it very clear, under the circumstances at the time, we were going down, and let me tell you let me answer, let me answer, let me answer, you may disagree but you weren't there to make these decisions."
A man near the front shouted out, "You won't be soon," but Hatch continued:
"Like I say, I probably made a mistake voting for it. I don't think I make many mistakes in the Congress over the years, but I think if you look at the record, you'll know that."
In many ways, Hatch had waded into treacherous waters by attending CPAC, an annual gathering put on by the American Conservative Union that attracts a crowd hugging the right flank.
After his speech, which was supposed to be centered on a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, Hatch said it was "relatively few people" who were jeering him but that they made a lot of noise.
"We're Republicans, we can disagree with one another," Hatch said. "I've always been somewhat controversial because I do stand up on issues. These are my people, they just don't know it yet."
The boos aimed at Hatch brought a quick response from Lew Uhler, a former staffer to President Ronald Reagan who also founded the National Tax Limitation Committee. Taking the podium amid the outcry, Uhler called for civility and gave a strong defense of Hatch.
"I fought in the trenches with this man, week after week, day after day, all right," Uhler said. "Nobody is more committed to conservative and fiscal principles than Orrin Hatch."
Hatch faces potential challenges from within the Utah Republican community as he attempts to win a record seventh term as a Utah senator. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is weighing a challenge against Hatch, as are some other Republicans who believe he is vulnerable.