The longest-serving Republican in the Senate criticized Steve Bannon’s remarks on Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith.
In a statement, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said he resents the former Trump adviser’s argument at a campaign rally in Alabama that Romney avoided service in Vietnam by “hiding behind” his religion as a Mormon missionary during the Vietnam War.
“I also resent anyone attacking any persons religious views, but particularly our own Christian LDS faith and the selfless service of missionary work,” Hatch said. “I’d be more than happy to sit down with Mr. Bannon and help him understand more about the LDS church at his convenience. I’ve got a copy of the Book of Mormon with his name on it.”
At a rally for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, Bannon harshly criticized Romney, who has come out against Moore over claims of sexual misconduct.
“You avoided service, brother,” said Bannon, who spent seven years in the Navy. “You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam.”
He went on to claim that Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct with underage girls, “has more honor and integrity in a pinky finger” than Romney and his family have “in [their] whole DNA.”
The spat comes at a time when both Hatch and Romney are at a political crossroads. Hatch, who first came to the Senate in 1977, is expected by many to retire at the end of his term next November. If or when he does, Romney could be the one to run for his seat, according to an October report in The Atlantic.
The prospect of a run by Romney — a political moderate who criticized Trump during the 2016 presidential election — is anathema to the populist camp of the Republican Party. Earlier this week, Trump publicly praised Hatch during a trip to Salt Lake City and encourage him to run for reelection — a move, Politico reports, aimed at deflating Romney’s momentum.
Romney has kept mum on his political future, but CBS News and other outlets report that he and Trump spoke late Tuesday night. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway described the exchange as a “wonderful conversation.”