Only in the United States, Sen. Orrin Hatch said Saturday, could “the scrappy son of a simple metal lather” grow up to be a senator.

“This country gave me the opportunity to escape the poverty of my youth,” Hatch said. “So in return, I’ve made it my life’s mission to expand opportunity for others.”

Hatch, who will retire in early January, said he has accomplished much of his goals as a federal lawmaker. But, he added, he’ll continue fighting until the end of his term and “long after” leaving the Senate.

“I still have a few months left,” Hatch said. “And I’m going to cause a lot of problems back there.”

Hatch’s comments came at an awards banquet at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, where the seven-term Republican senator was named a “Giant in our City” by the Salt Lake Chamber.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune U. S. House Speaker Paul Ryan delivers the keynote address during a ceremony honoring Utah Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Saturday, June 9, 2018, at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City. The Salt Lake Chamber awarded Sen. Hatch with the 39th Giant in Our City, for his exceptional and distinguished service and extraordinary professional achievement throughout his political career.

The event was headlined by outgoing U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who delivered a keynote speech that repeatedly poked fun at Hatch’s age and his achievements as a songwriter and occasional actor.

Ryan noted that he received his driver license in 1986 while Hatch was in his second Senate term. He joked that Hatch’s early press releases were distributed by carrier pigeons, before complimenting Hatch for keeping up with the times through an active social media presence and guest appearances on the TV comedy “Parks and Recreation” and the 2000 dramatic film “Traffic.”

“With this kind of celebrity on his resume,” Ryan said, “this guy could become president the United States.”

Hatch unsuccessfully ran for U.S. president in 2000.

After a more serious turn, Ryan praised Hatch for his work on major legislation, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, and the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that overhauled the federal tax code.

“It’s going to put such a strong foundation underneath the American economy,” Ryan said. “When people look back at why America was strong in the early part of this century, they’re going to point to this tax law.”

Ryan said Hatch is “the absolute embodiment” of his faith, quoting a passage from The Book of Mormon — a scriptural text within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Hatch is a member — that equates service toward others as service to God.

“This man is among the most civil and decent leaders that our country has been blessed with,” Ryan said.

Those sentiments were echoed by former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, a co-chairman of the “Giant in our City” event.

“In the history of the state of Utah, no other individual legislator has had a greater impact than Sen. Orrin Hatch,” Leavitt said.

Shortly before the banquet, Hatch briefly responded to questions from the media.

He said he’ll be working hard until his final day in office and that he hopes to see federal lawmakers arrive at a solution on the nation’s immigration laws.

The United States, Hatch said, needs to be able to balance lawfulness with compassion.

“Anybody who has any brains wants to come to America,” Hatch said.

Hatch, who announced his retirement in January, declined to comment Saturday on the race to replace him other than saying he’ll support the eventual nominee of the Utah Republican Party.