Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Senate’s most senior member and third in line to the presidency, announced Monday that he will retire from the chamber in 2022 rather than seek a historic ninth term.
"I’m proud to be Vermont’s longest-serving senator, because I know my time in the Senate has made a difference for Vermonters," Leahy told a crowd gathered at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier, at times choking up.
"I’ve brought Vermont’s voice to the United States Senate and Vermont’s values around the world," said Leahy, accompanied by his beloved wife of nearly 60 years, Marcelle. "And while I will continue to serve Vermont, Marcelle and I have reached a conclusion that it’s time to put down the gavel, that it’s time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter … It’s time to come home."
Leahy, 81, is the fifth-longest serving senator in history, and his announcement was sure to set off a scramble to fill the seat. Most experts believe, however, that Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., has the upper hand for the nomination.
"I would expect Welch to run for the now-open #VTSen and it's clearly his if he wants it, but keep an eye on State Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint who could run for Welch's open House seat and give Vermont its first woman in Congress," tweeted Jessica Taylor, the Cook Political Report’s Senate expert.
Leahy is currently chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, more recently shepherding major pieces of President Joe Biden’s pandemic economic relief through Congress. He is the senior-most member of both the Judiciary and the Agriculture committees. Leahy also is a longtime top member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State Department, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, zealously guarding the United States' role abroad, more recently leading battles against former President Donald Trump’s efforts to slash foreign aid budgets.
And while Leahy could be a partisan warrior for progressive causes, he has also joined with Republicans on legislative efforts in the past, like striking last-minute government funding deals with his Appropriations Committee counterpart Richard Shelby of Alabama, and working on criminal justice reform with Iowa’s Chuck Grassley.
"Sorry 2hear of Sen Leahy’s retirement He & I work together on so many major pieces of legislation False Claims Whistleblower protections EB5 Freedom of Information Act to name a few Pat, Marcelle, Barbara & I are gr8 friends For the Senate his leadership will b missed,” tweeted Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who has served with Leahy as chairman and ranking member, alternately, of the Judiciary panel for decades.
Sen. Shelby, who recently announced his own retirement, tweeted Monday, "Over the past 47 years, Chairman Leahy has had a remarkable career in the Senate. As chairman of the Appropriations, Judiciary, and Agriculture committees and president pro tempore of the Senate, Pat has served Vermont well and with honor. His devotion to our nation and his state merits praise. I thank Pat for his friendship and wish he and his wife, Marcelle, all the best."
A prolific legislator, Leahy touted his work creating the watershed Innocence Protection Act of 2004 that guaranteed access to DNA testing for those on death row, the Freedom of Information Act -- a pinnacle of transparency for journalists and others -- and the Violence Against Women Act. He has worked for years to help with the reestablishment of normal relations with Cuba and Vietnam.
Before seeking political office, Leahy -- a prosecutor by training -- served as State’s Attorney in Chittenden County for eight years and was chosen as one of three outstanding prosecutors in the country in 1974, the year he decided to seek a Senate seat.
He has also enjoyed something of a cult status for Batman movie buffs, having appeared in five of the blockbuster hits, including Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight."
A self-confessed Batman movie fan, he wrote the forward to a related book in 1992 and then first appeared in 1995 alongside Val Kilmer, Jim Carey, and Tommy Lee Jones with an uncredited cameo. Perhaps his best-known appearance came In 2008 when he played a Wayne Enterprises board member in "The Dark Knight.” A wide-eyed Leahy was manhandled by the Oscar-winning Heath Ledger, who played the Joker.
Despite a hectic work - sometimes play - schedule, Leahy, an avid photographer, is almost never seen without a camera in hand taking photos around Capitol Hill and sharing the stories behind those pics with any willing journalist. He has had several of his photos published and has been invited to judge the annual White House News Photographers Association contest, a distinct honor.
The senator is also a champion marksman.
He and Marcelle, who is practically a fixture at the Capitol with her husband, are avid travelers, only recently curbing their affinity for deep-sea diving as age and health concerns set in. Most recently, in January, the senator had to be hospitalized overnight with chest pains after he finished a long day presiding over the second Senate trial of former President Trump.
The Leahys travel between Washington and their tree farm in Middlesex, Vermont, a home about which the senator often reminisces.
Patrick Leahy has been married to Marcelle Pomerleau Leahy since 1962. The couple has a daughter, two sons, and five grandchildren. His son-in-law, Lawrence Jackson, is currently Vice President Kamala Harris’ photographer.
Leahy's term is slated to expire in January 2023.