The Democrat said that he and his wife, Marcelle, decided that “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.”
The 81-year-old’s decision will end a political era that began with his first election to the Senate in 1974, when he became the last of the group referred to as Watergate babies elected after former President Richard Nixon resigned from office, AP reported. During his long tenure of nearly half a century, Vermont transitioned from a highly Republican state to one of the most progressive in the U.S.
Leahy is known for promoting human rights, making efforts to ban landmines and safeguard the privacy rights of individuals. Also an environmental advocate, he has worked to protect and clean up Lake Champlain, which divides northern Vermont from upstate New York.
His decision to forgo re-election will place extra pressure on Democrats working to keep control of the evenly divided Senate after the midterm elections next year, according to AP.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
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 Representative 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 Senator 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.
“I know I have been there for my state when I was needed most. 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,” he said.