Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced he will not seek reelection in 2022. Leahy, who is 81 years old, is the longest-serving active member of the senate. He was first elected to the position in 1974 and is serving his eighth term; it is set to expire in January 2023.
“I have reached the conclusion,” Sen. Leahy said at a Monday news conference. “It is time to put down the 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.”
Sen. Leahy is the last of the so-called Watergate babies elected after President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
“I came to the Senate at a time of a constitutional crisis. We faced a nation broken by the Watergate scandal, the resignation of President Nixon and an endless war in Vietnam,” Leahy said Monday. “Within just a few months of taking office, as the newest and by far the most junior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, we were asked to vote to reauthorize and continue the war in Vietnam. At that time, support in Vermont for the war was strong, but I’d always opposed it.”
During Leahy’s time in office, Vermont went from a solidly red state to one of the most progressive in the nation. His record includes promoting human rights, working to ban landmines and protecting individual privacy rights. Leahy has also been a champion of the environment.
Now that Leahy has announced he won’t seek reelection, there are a few likely contenders to run for the seat. On the Democratic side, Vermont’s lone Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) is expected to announce a bid. He has high approval ratings in the Green Mountain State and his fundraising has been going well.
“I think he would be the logical candidate, and that would set up the musical chairs about who replaces him in Congress,” Matthew Dickinson, a political science professor at Middlebury College, said.
So far it’s not clear if Leahy’s fellow Vermont senator, Bernie Sanders (I-VT), will endorse Welch.
Meanwhile, Republicans also have a popular potential candidate in current Gov. Phil Scott. The governor, who frequently criticized former President Donald Trump and has called for civility in politics, has not said if he’s interested in running. He did take to Twitter Monday to comment on the announcement Leahy made regarding reelection.
“Sen. Leahy has committed his life to serving the people of Vermont and he will be missed as one of our voices in Washington,” Gov. Scott tweeted. “He has made immeasurable contributions to our state and nation, and nobody is more deserving of a long and happy retirement than the Senator and Marcelle.”