Leahy Won't Seek Reelection Next Year | Off Message

Leahy Won't Seek Reelection Next Year


Sen. Patrick Leahy and his wife Marcelle on Monday - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy and his wife Marcelle on Monday
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced Monday that he will not seek reelection next year, ending months of speculation and creating a rare opening in a Vermont congressional seat.

At an event at the Vermont Statehouse, Leahy, 81, said he plans to retire from the U.S. Senate, where he is the fifth-longest serving senator in the chamber's history. He was first elected in 1974, and is currently in his eighth term.

“It is time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter who will carry on this work for our great state,” he said, appearing emotional as he made the announcement. “It’s time to come home.”

Leahy spoke to a packed room of staff, friends and media — the same room where he launched his first Senate campaign. The senior senator spoke from prepared remarks for nearly 20 minutes, recounting what he considered his proudest achievements in Congress. His wife, Marcelle, who began chemotherapy treatments in May for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, was by his side.

“While I’ll continue to serve Vermont, Marcelle and I have reached the conclusion that it is time to put down the gavel,” he said, adding that representing Vermont has been his “greatest honor.”

Leahy did not elaborate on the reason for his retirement, and did not immediately take questions. He left to return to Washington, D.C., to attend a presidential signing ceremony for the $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

Leahy chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and serves as president pro tempore, giving him outsized influence despite hailing from one of the country's smallest states. He presided over former president Donald Trump's impeachment trial earlier this year.

His decision creates a massive void for Vermont Democrats, who have already been jockeying for position in anticipation of Leahy's possible retirement. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) could seek to switch chambers. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, Vermont Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham), and state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden), have all expressed interest in potentially running for Congress.
On Monday, Vermont Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky (P/D-Essex), an ally of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said she is exploring a run for Senate "on a people powered, democratic socialist platform."

Leahy's retirement could also open the door for a Republican challenger.

Leahy drew warm applause from legislators and staffers at the Statehouse. He'd barely left the podium when elected officials began issuing statements of praise and support.

“It is a historic and bittersweet day," said Welch in a written statement. "Like so many Vermonters, I appreciate the incredible service that Patrick J. Leahy and Marcelle Leahy have given all of us in Vermont for so long, but it is hard to imagine the United States Senate without Patrick Leahy. No one has served Vermont so faithfully, so constantly, so honestly, and so fiercely as Patrick."

Balint said it was "almost impossible to find words to do justice" to the service that Leahy and his family gave the state and country over the years. "His exceptional commitment to our state’s values of progress, equality, and dignity for all have improved the lives of generations of Vermonters," she said. "He has been a champion for agriculture, environmental issues, data privacy, humanitarian aid, civil liberties and human rights, and he’s done truly extraordinary work on the Senate Judiciary Committee."

Gray called him an "inspiration."

"Over the last five decades, when at times our nation’s moral compass has wavered, Senator Leahy has remained steady, standing by Vermont’s values and working to ensure our nation respects and protects those values," she wrote in a statement. "From human rights and civil liberties to international engagement and humanitarian relief, Senator Leahy has served as Vermont and our nation’s north star."
The press conference Monday - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • The press conference Monday
Ram, who was overseas in Berlin participating in a policy exchange program, also released a statement, calling Leahy a "titan" who "championed values that Vermonters hold dear."

"As the most senior member of the Senate, he has brought our state’s needs to the table during discussions around infrastructure and pandemic recovery, ensuring that Vermont can access the resources needed to support our communities and be an experiment station for innovation on health care, rural development, clean water, public lands, and so much more," her statement said.

"Thank you, Senator Leahy and Marcelle, for showing us how to serve selflessly and with honor, representing Vermont’s values in Washington and beyond," Ram added. "Stepping aside to let the next generation step up is yet another act of visionary leadership. We will not let you down."

Republican Gov. Phil Scott, the VTGOP's strongest statewide vote-getter in recent years, is not interested in running for Congress, a spokesperson said. Scott, too, released a statement thanking Leahy for his service.

“The Senator has been an incredible champion for Vermonters, and his leadership and experience has ensured our state is well represented in Congress," wrote Scott. "It is thanks to him, and the funding he’s secured for our state, that Vermont is in a position to come out of this pandemic stronger than before and tackle big challenges from broadband and infrastructure to the opioid crisis. We are indebted to him."

This post will be updated.