Sen. Patrick Leahy announces he will not seek reelection

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Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont announced Monday that he will not seek reelection next year, opting to retire from the Senate.

Leahy, 81, is the longest-serving sitting senator, having been in office since 1975 following his election in 1974. He is currently the president pro tempore of the Senate.

“I have reached the conclusion that it’s time to put down the gavel,” Leahy said. “It is time to pass a torch to the next Vermonter who will carry on this work for our great state. It’s time to come home.”

Leahy made his announcement at the Vermont State House, where he launched his first Senate campaign in 1974.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., acknowledges applause as his wife Marcelle Pomerleau looks on at the conclusion of a news conference at the Vermont State House to announce he will not seek re-election, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Montpelier, V.T. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Leahy’s news opens the door for a handful of Vermont Democrats who may seek to succeed him. Among the potential contenders are Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont Senate President pro tem Becca Balint, state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, and Lt. Gov. Molly Gray.

Prior to Leahy’s announcement, no Republican had launched a 2022 bid for the Senate in the blue state of Vermont, which now-President Biden carried by 35 points last November and Leahy won reelection in 2016 by 28 points.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont praised Leahy as “an incredible champion for Vermonters” whose “leadership and experience has ensured our state is well represented in Congress.”

Scott has indicated in the past that he wouldn’t launch a GOP challenge against Leahy, whom he considers a friend. But with the longtime senator retiring, it’s unclear if Scott, a frequent critic of former President Donald Trump, would considering launching a Senate bid.

With Leahy’s announcement, there are only two senators up for reelection in 2022 who have yet to say whether they’ll seek another term. They are Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John Thune of South Dakota.

In September, 88-year old GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa announced that he would run for reelection next year for an eighth term in the Senate.

Leahy has often been in the national spotlight during his tenure in the Senate, most recently in February as he presided over the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, who announced in February that he would retire after four decades in Congress, praised Leahy.

“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,” the 87-year old Shelby wrote.” I thank Pat for his friendship and wish he and his wife, Marcelle, all the best.”

In this image from video, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the president pro tempore of the Senate, who is presiding over the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, opens the trial day in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. (Senate Television via AP)
(AP )

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York emphasized that “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.”

And Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the chair of the Senate Democrats reelection committee, praised Leahy as “a lion of the Senate – he reflects the very best values of the institution and through his service he has shaped the direction of our country for the better in countless ways.”

The Senate is split 50/50 but the Democrats hold a razor thin majority due to the tie breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, through her Constitutional duty as president of the Senate. 

That means the GOP needs a net gain of just one seat to regain the chamber’s majority they lost when they were swept in January’s twin Senate runoff elections. 

While Republicans are defending 20 of the 34 seats up for grabs in the 2022 midterms, they see pickup opportunities in the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire.

Peters spotlighted that “Vermont is a blue state that has not elected a Republican to statewide federal office in more than 20 years, and Democrats look forward to winning this Senate seat in 2022.” 

Fox News’ Mike Emanuel and Chad Pergram contributed to this report.

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