On Monday, Nov. 15, Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy announced that he will not run for re-election at the end of his current term. Having served in this capacity since 1975, following his election at 34 in 1974, Leahy is the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate still in office and would have bid for election to his ninth term in 2022.
At 81, Leahy is also the fourth longest-serving senator in U.S. history. By a tradition that has not been disrupted in nearly three quarters of a century, this seniority – coupled with his membership in the majority party – make him Senate president pro tempore, meaning that he is third in the line of presidential succession.
At the time of his election, Leahy was the first Democratic candidate to assume the office of Vermont State Senator, and he remains the only Democratic candidate to have done so. During his incumbency, Leahy has served as chairperson of the Agriculture, Appropriations and Judiciary committees, and early in his career, he worked on legislation supporting marriage equality and healthcare reforms.
In recent years, he co-wrote the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, which modified U.S. patent laws and increased protections of intellectual property, and presided over former president Trump’s second impeachment trial as Senate president pro tempore.
Just this year, as current chairperson of the Appropriations Committee, Leahy has been at the forefront of drafting legislation that seeks to expand and protect voting rights, but the senator has also indicated his climbing frustrations with increasingly stubborn gridlock in Congress. Throughout this year, Republicans in the Senate have blocked this legislation in a series of filibusters.
Leahy announced his retirement in a news conference held in Montpelier’s state capitol building, where he expressed his wish to make the initial statement from home. “It is time to pass the torch on to the next Vermonter who will carry on this work for our great state. It’s time to come home,” he said. “Representing you in Washington has been the greatest honor.”
Following this announcement, Leahy delivered an emotional speech on the Senate floor, in which he revealed the extent of deliberation that went into his decision to retire. He expressed gratitude for the support of his wife Marcelle and his staff, also conveying that – over his 47-year tenure – his colleagues in the Senate have become like family members to him. The senator also expressed his pride in being able to fight for the state of Vermont in Congress.
“Here’s the thing about the Senate. Here’s where small states like Vermont have not just a seat at the table but a voice at the table,” Leahy said.
Many of his remarks surrounding his decision to retire indicated that it was not one made lightly but that it was one made in favor of being home with Marcelle and his family in Vermont.
Leahy noted that the remaining year of his term will involve hard work toward a brighter future – a vision that has been a cornerstone of his platform since he first placed a bid for office. He noted his commitment to completing a dozen annual spending bills within his work in the Appropriations Committee.
Governor Phil Scott, a friend of Leahy, indicated his admiration for the senator on Twitter. “Sen. Leahy has committed his life to serving the people of VT, and he will be missed as one of our voices in Washington,” reads a statement tweeted from the governor’s official account.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who will become Vermont’s senior senator following Leahy’s retirement, joined in the praise of the senator’s life-long work. “He leaves a unique legacy that will be impossible to match,” Sanders said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer echoed Scott and Sander’s admiration, stating that Leahy has a nearly inimitable track record of defending his state. “He has been a guardian of Vermont and more rural states in the Senate, and has an unmatched fidelity to the Constitution and rule of law,” Schumer said.
Schumer also noted his confidence that this seat vacated by Leahy will remain in Democratic hands – a claim bolstered by Vermont’s solid status as a Democratic state. Some have speculated about the possibility of Scott placing a bid for the office, while others believe that strong candidates are U.S. Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) or Democratic Lt. Gov. Molly Gray – who would be the first woman elected to the Senate from Vermont.