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Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy (81) to retire at end of his current term

Sarah Silbiger-Pool/Getty Images

Vermont Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy said Monday that he will not seek re-election to the U.S. Senate next year, ending a legislative career that has spanned nearly five decades.

Leahy, now 81 years old, is the longest-serving sitting senator, having first won office in 1974. He is currently the president pro tempore of the Senate, an office that by tradition is reserved for the most senior U.S. senator in the majority party.

"I am proud to be Vermont's longest serving Senator," Leahy told reporters Monday. "While I will continue to serve Vermont, Marcelle and I have reached the conclusion that it is time to put down this 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."

Leahy announced his retirement at the Vermont state House, speaking from the same location where he launched his first campaign for U.S. Senate at 34 years old. Running in the wake of the Watergate scandal and Republican President Richard Nixon's resignation, Leahy became the first Democrat ever elected to the Senate from Vermont and has since served eight consecutive terms.

Today, Vermont is a solidly Democratic state — President Joe Biden won Vermont by 35 points in the 2020 election and Leahy won re-election in 2016 by 28 points. Leahy's retirement will create the first open Senate seat in the state since 2007, when then-Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won election to the U.S. Senate. Possible contenders for the Democratic Senate primary include Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont Senate President pro tem Becca Balint, state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, and Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, Fox News reported.

A possible GOP candidate is Gov. Phil Scott, the only statewide-elected Republican in Vermont, though it is unclear if he wants to mount a bid for the seat vacated by Leahy's retirement. The governor has previously said he would not launch a challenge to Leahy, whom he considers a friend.

In a statement on Leahy's retirement, Scott praised the veteran Democratic lawmaker as "an incredible champion for Vermonters."

"His leadership and experience has ensured our state is well represented in Congress," Scott said. "It is thanks to him, and the funding he's secured for our state, that Vermont is in a position to come out of this pandemic stronger than before and tackle big challenges from broadband and infrastructure to the opioid crisis. We are indebted to him."

"It is with the greatest respect and gratitude that I wish him, Marcelle and their entire family all the best for a bright future, and – come January 2023 – enjoyment throughout a well-deserved retirement," he added.

Leahy was also praised by his Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

"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," Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who is also retiring at the end of his current term, said. "I thank Pat for his friendship and wish he and his wife, Marcelle, all the best."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said of Leahy, "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 an emotional Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), speaking on the Senate floor, said "it's hard to imagine a Senate without Pat and his lovely wife, Marcelle. For now I just want to salute our colleague on the occasion of his announcement and add my congratulations on his remarkable career thus far."

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