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Patrick Leahy, Longest-Serving Current Senator, to Retire

November 15, 2021 by Dan McCue
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

WASHINGTON —Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., will not seek election to a ninth term in Congress, instead choosing to retire after 48 years on Capitol Hill.

“It’s time to put down the gavel,” Leahy said from the Vermont state house in Montpelier.

Standing alongside his wife, Marcelle, he added, “It is time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter who will carry on this work of our great state. It’s time to come home.”

In a statement issued a few hours later, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “very few in the history of the United States Senate can match the record of Patrick Leahy. 

“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. “We agreed and worked on so many important issues together, but sadly, one thing we could never agree on: whether New York or Vermont has the best maple syrup.

“With Patrick’s help, we are confident Democrats will retain the seat,” the majority leader added, adding “He will be sorely missed in the Senate.”

Leahy, 81, is the sixth Senator to announce he will not run for reelection next year, the other five all being Republicans.

The retirement of the most senior member of the senate also signals a kind of changing of the guard. 

Though a Democrat will almost certainly be elected to fill his seat in reliably blue Vermont, there will undoubtedly be a reshuffling of the Democratic caucus with the current president pro tempore and chairman of the appropriations committee stepping aside.

Maine’s Susan Collins is expected to become the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee at the beginning of the 118th Congress, with Washington state’s Patty Murray poised to become the top Democrat.

Most people forget it now, but Leahy had originally aspired to be the governor of Vermont, but in 1974 was encouraged to run for Senate in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

When he won, he became the first non-Republican senator elected from Vermont since 1856 and he has remained the only Democrat elected to the senate from the state ever since.

Vermont’s other Senator is Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

Given his long tenure, Leahy has had a hand in major legislation touching every aspect of American life, and he’s also been among the most bipartisan. In 2013, according to Gov Track, he was the Senate chamber champion for sponsoring bipartisan legislation, with 61% of his bills having both Democratic and Republican co-sponsors.

But it was an incident from 2004 that perhaps best revealed another side of him — his vibrant sense of humor.

In June 2004, Leahy and then-Vice President Dick Cheney participated in the U.S. Senate class photo.

Afterwards, Leahy noticed Cheney talking to only Republicans, and asked the vice president to come talk to Democrats as well. Cheney, angered by remarks Leahy had made about Halliburton and its activities in Iraq, swore at the senator, telling him precisely what he could do to himself.

Years later, as he escorted senator-elect Sanders to the well of the Senate to be sworn in he joked, “When it comes to the vice president, it’s always better to be sworn in than sworn at.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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