WASHINGTON — They've been called the Senate's odd couple.

But instead of Oscar and Felix, it's Orrin and Ted.

The unlikely friendship between a Mormon, Western, conservative Republican who does not drink and a Catholic, East Coast, liberal Democrat who has been known to have a few began in 1981 and has grown to a brother-like magnitude since.

This made Tuesday's news that Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., has a malignant brain tumor extremely difficult for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was visibly shaken after the Republican caucus lunch meeting Tuesday, when he learned the news.

"I love him like a brother," Hatch said, wiping tears from his eyes. "I just feel terrible about hearing this. It's really terrible news."

Hatch has been e-mailing with Vicki Kennedy, the senator's wife, since Sen. Kennedy suffered a seizure over the weekend. Kennedy's staff members, who know how close the two are, having also been keeping him in the loop, Hatch said.

"We've just been very, very close," Hatch said. "We've always respected each other."

In 1981, Hatch became chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, a position he held for six years. Hatch explained that with nine liberals and only seven conservative on the committee, he knew it was going to be hard for him to get anything done.

"I went to Ted and said I can't run this committee without you so I need your help," Hatch said. While the two knew each other before, working together on the committee helped form the close bond the two share now.

"We have passed so much legislation together," he said.

From the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to the Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, Hatch could not even put a specific number on how many bills they have worked on together.

"He is one of the great legislators, there is no question about it," Hatch said.

And while they have had their difference and "fought each other tooth and nail many times, we've always respected each other.

"You just can't help but like him if you get to know him, and I've really gotten to know him," Hatch said. "This is a man with one of the greatest senses of humor that I've ever seen in my lifetime. I am sure he is making fun of this."

At a press conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. said Kennedy's wife has said the senator is in "really good spirits" and was walking around today.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said "he is in a fighting mood."

Hatch said he is going to "pray real hard" for Kennedy's recovery and "demand" that his friend get better to return to his work in the Senate.

"I've been praying and I'll continue and I'll step it up a notch," Hatch said. "I thought I was praying pretty hard as it was but I'll step it up a notch."

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, also expressed his concern, although he does not have the same type of relationship with Kennedy.

"Unlike Senator Hatch, I do not share any committee assignments with Senator Kennedy and therefore have not really developed the close relationship that Senator Hatch has developed," Bennett said. "At the same time, with all the senators, my thoughts and prayers are with Senator Kennedy and his family at this time of difficulty."

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