Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving member in the Senate, announced Monday he will not seek reelection in 2022.
"Marcelle and I have reached the conclusion that 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," he said in a news conference at the state capitol in Montpelier.
Leahy, a Democrat, said he wanted to make the announcement "here at home, just a few yards from where I grew up."
Leahy, 81, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974 and currently serves as president pro tempore of the Senate, a constitutional role given to the longest-serving lawmaker in the majority party that places him third in the line of presidential succession. During his tenure, he has chaired the Agriculture, Judiciary and Appropriations committees.
"Representing you in Washington has been the greatest honor," he told Vermonters. "I'm humbled and always will be by your support," he said.
'Good judgment and hard work'
Leahy described arriving to the Senate in 1975 "at a time of constitutional crisis," following the Watergate scandal and the subsequent resignation of President Richard Nixon, and the war in Vietnam.
"Within just a few months of taking office, as the newest and by far most junior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, we were asked to vote to reauthorize and to continue the war in Vietnam," Leahy recalled, noting that support for the war in Vermont was strong at the time. "But I'd always opposed it. We voted five times. Each time, the vote to continue the war was defeated by one vote. I was proud to be that one vote."
"My hope was Vermonters would respect my judgment and my conscience, even if they disagreed with my vote to end the war," he said. "I learned early in my career that good judgment and hard work are exactly what Vermonters expect from their representatives."
During Monday's announcement, Leahy listed various legislative accomplishments during his eight terms in the Senate, including his championing of the environment and the cleanup of Lake Champlain, advocating for an independent judiciary, banning the export of landmines, and working to advance the first update to the Violence Against Women Act, in which LGBTQ protections were added.
In 2016, Leahy was outspoken over Republicans' refusal to hold hearings for federal Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Four years later, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would move forward on then-President Donald Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, just ahead of the presidential election.
Leahy cried foul.
"I've seen things I've questioned, but I've never seen political hypocrisy at this level," he said on NPR's Weekend Edition. "It will actually go down in the journals of political hypocrisy."
Leahy was put in the national spotlight in 2021, when he presided over the second impeachment trial of Trump in his role as Senate president pro tempore.
"This is not something I requested," Leahy then told The New York Times. "I've never had anyone, Republican or Democrat, say my rulings were not fair."
Leahy joins five other senators — all Republicans — who have said they will not run again. His announcement also creates the first congressional vacancy in Vermont since 2006.
Reflecting on his political legacy Monday, Leahy said he's proud "because I know my time has made a difference."
"I know I've been there for my state when I was needed most," he said. "I've brought Vermont's voice to the U.S. Senate and Vermont's values around the world."