Well, he did it.
In a crowded Statehouse meeting room, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy announced that he will not seek re-election next year.
I’d heard of his decision from enough sources that I felt confident in writing it up last week, but I wasn’t entirely certain until he actually said it himself. “Marcelle and I have reached the conclusion that it’s time to put down the gavel,” he said. “It’s time to come home.”
He received standing ovations at the beginning and end of his statement from a few dozen Democratic bigwigs. The press were shunted off to one side, which did not allow for the slightest bit of social distancing. We were just part of the scenery; Leahy did not take questions from the peanut gallery.
And now the dominos begin to fall. But that’s a story for another day.
In his remarks, Leahy ran down some of the highlights of his Senate career. When you hear them all at once, they give you a sense of the stature of the man. He’s been in the center of events so often — starting shortly after his arrival in Washington when he was a steadfast voice against the Vietnam War, all the way through presiding over Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial earlier this year. Throughout his nearly half-century in the Senate, he’s been a strong voice for liberal policy.
Leahy’s retirement will be a big blow to Vermont’s stature in Congress. Thanks to his seniority and membership on the Senate Appropriations Committee, he has diverted billions of federal dollars toward Vermont. He was instrumental in inserting a “small state minimum” into federal Covid relief bills, which ensured that Vermont and other small states wouldn’t be shortchanged.
Starting in 2023, we won’t enjoy that anymore. And if, as everyone expects, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch runs to replace Leahy, we’ll lose Welch’s 15 years of House seniority as well. That’s a big Brandon deal.
Full credit to Leahy for knowing when to exit stage left. He didn’t pull a Strom Thurmond zombie act as he could have done. He’s giving up the chance to become the longest-serving Senator in U.S. history, as he would have become by the end of another six-year term.
I hope that Leahy’s retirement is purely a matter of choice, not a sign of health troubles for himself or Marcelle. They deserve a full measure of time to themselves and their family.
On this day, nothing but praise for a giant of the Senate and of Vermont history. The political speculation can wait for tomorrow.