Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate, announced Monday that he will not seek reelection in 2022.
The 81-year-old Leahy announced his retirement after nearly eight terms and more than 45 years in the Senate at a press conference in the Vermont State House in Montpelier. Leahy was elected to the Senate in 1974 at age 34; he was the youngest U.S. Senator ever to be elected from Vermont.
Leahy will leave the Senate with a record of promoting human rights, working to ban landmines and protect individual privacy rights. He has been a champion of the environment, especially of Lake Champlain, the body of water that separates northern Vermont from upstate New York.
“I know I have been there for my state when I was needed most,” Leahy said. “I know I have taken our best ideas and helped them grow. I brought Vermont’s voice to the United States Senate and Vermont values across the world.
“So yes, I am proud to be Vermont’s longest serving Senator. While I will continue to serve Vermont, Marcelle and I have reached the conclusion that it is time to put down this gavel. It is time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter who will carry on this work for our great state. It’s time to come home.”
Leahy is the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He is the senior-most member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Leahy is the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State Department, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. He ranks first in seniority in the Senate.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called Leahy a “towering figure” who will leave a lasting legacy.
“I know I speak for all Vermonters in expressing the deep gratitude we feel for the extraordinary role that Pat Leahy has played in representing Vermont in the U.S. Senate for the last 46 years,” Sanders said in statement. “I wish him and Marcelle a wonderful and well-earned retirement.”
Accolades poured in from across the state after Leahy’s announcement. Gov. Phil Scott called Leahy “an incredible champion for Vermonters.” Secretary of State Jim Condos said Leahy was a champion of voting rights and voter access.
“Senator Leahy has always used his voice to speak out against injustice at the ballot box,” Condos said. “He has worked to fight voter suppression and mend the torn fabric of disparate voter protections from state to state.”
By retiring and creating the first vacancy in Vermont’s congressional delegation since 2006, Leahy sets up a scramble to succeed him among a number of the state’s up-and-coming politicians.
Matthew Dickinson, a political science professor at Middlebury College, said a likely choice to succeed Leahy would be Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, the state’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Dickinson said that Welch’s fundraising is going well and noted that the 74-year-old Welch has enjoyed consistently high approval ratings.
“I think he would be the logical candidate, and that would set up the musical chairs about who replaces him in Congress,” Dickinson said.
It’s uncertain which Republican Party candidates might seek their party’s nomination to run in the November election. It’s unclear whether Phil Scott, the state’s Republican governor who frequently criticized former President Donald Trump and has called for civility in politics, would be interested in running.
Leahy is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the senior-most member of both the Senate Judiciary and Agriculture committees.
Earlier this year, Leahy, during his third stint as president pro tem of the Senate, presided over the second impeachment trial of then-President Donald Trump.
In September, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the longest-serving Republican senator, said he would seek an eighth term in 2022, giving the party more confidence in holding that seat as it fights to overtake the Democrats’ one-vote advantage thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ role as tiebreaker.
Leahy said he was proud of his service to his state and his work to make a difference for residents of Vermont.