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Scuba diving, snowshoeing and time with grandkids are top of Sen. Leahy's plans after nearly 5 decades in the Senate

Sen. Patrick Leahy, with invisible frame glasses, wears a gray suit, purple sweater and tie. He stands, shoulders up, against a sky with clouds.
Angela Evancie
VPR File
Sen. Patrick Leahy announced he will not be seeking reelection next fall, at the Statehouse in Montpelier Monday. He spoke with VPR's Bob Kinzel about what's next, and what he sees ahead for American politics.

Sen. Patrick Leahy announced Monday that he will not seek another term as U.S. Senator next fall. He is the chamber's longest-serving member — first elected office in 1974.

He made his announcement at the Statehouse in Montpelier.

VPR's Bob Kinzel spoke with Sen. Patrick Leahy about his decision not to seek reelection. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Bob Kinzel: How hard a decision was this for you to make?

Sen. Patrick Leahy: Oh, it’s something Marcelle and I have talked about for a long time. And we basically made it this summer, you know, walking around the fields and the woods at home. But I also had an awful lot of legislation I wanted to get through, especially helping Vermont. And I thought I'd wait until after I did that.

But we, we talked about it. And over the weekend I called a lot of people, of course I called the governor and others – told them of my decision.

"... We're going to have to work. And people are going to have to stop putting aside their own immediate political ambitions and think about what's best for the country."
- Sen. Patrick Leahy

More from VPR: Sen. Patrick Leahy won't seek reelection. What comes next, and what do you make of his decades in office?

You mentioned, right in your speech, the need for new energy in 1974, when you announced your first run for the U.S. Senate. And you alluded that this may be time for new leadership again.

Well, I think there's going to be a lot of new leaders coming. But I want people to come to the Senate, in both parties, who believe in the Senate, and believe in what can be done.

I had the benefit when I came there, my mentor, the first person who took me under his wing, was Sen. Robert Stafford — Mr. Republican in Vermont. And we learned how to work together, to do bipartisan things together. I've, I think, passed more bipartisan legislation than any other senator in last 20 to 25 years just because I’ve followed that lesson, to try to work with both parties. My office is ideally located, right near the Senate floor. There’ve been a lot of private meetings there to sort of work things out.

You know, I'm wondering how you feel the state of democracy is in this country. You've seen it change over the last 40 or 50 years. Are you optimistic? Are you hopeful? Are you concerned?

I was very pessimistic on Jan. 6, when I watched what was going on. But I had a long talk this weekend with President Biden. We both share optimism, that it can come back. But we're going to have to work. And people are going to have to start putting aside their own immediate political ambitions and think about what's best for the country. That's what I'm doing in making this announcement now.

More from VPR: Sen. Leahy announces he won't seek reelection next fall

You've passed thousands and thousands of votes – I think probably more than any other senator in the history of this country or something close to it …

I think I'm second now. Bob Byrd is about 1000 ahead of me, but — he's got about 17,000 votes.

I know you're very proud of the vote to end the Vietnam War. Are there a couple of others that stand out that you say, you know, I really did the right thing?

Well, there have been a number and certainly when I voted against war in Iraq. Unlike others, I actually read the intelligence. And I knew that they were not telling the truth about weapons of mass destruction. And I voted against that war. And I'm proud of that.

"I want people to come to the Senate, in both parties, who believe in the Senate, and believe in what can be done."
- Sen. Patrick Leahy

But there's so many. You know, passing the organic farm bill and how that's helped so many people. What we’ve done to completely update the Violence Against Women Act. That meant a lot. So I can look at a lot of them that are in there. But yeah, some will stand out. And others I might look back and say: what was I thinking?

Any plans, what you'll do after November of '22?

Oh, I just want to have some time where Marcelle and I can set our own schedule and do whatever we want. And then then we'll decide. We’ve got kids and grandkids. We love to snowshoe if it's wintertime up here. We love to go scuba diving, which is not normally what one thinks of, as a senator, but there's a lot of things and we'll have more – far more – time with each other. We'll celebrate our 60th wedding anniversary next summer.

I never could have done this without Marcelle, and she deserves to have my undivided attention. Thank you very much.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet reporter Bob Kinzel @VPRKinzel.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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