Reuters. File photo: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) questions Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to examine the FY22 budget request for the Treasury Department in Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, June 23, 2021.
By Richard Kawan and Jason Lang
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Vermont’s Democratic U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy said Monday he would not seek re-election in November 2022, opening another seat that Democrats must defend aggressively if they are to maintain their razor-thin Senate majority.
First elected in 1974, Leahy, 81, served as pro-tempo president of the chamber, a position that puts him third in the list of U.S. presidents, after Vice President Kamala Harris and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
His retirement could open the door for Democratic Representative Peter Welch to run for the Senate.
“It is time to send the torch to the next Vermonter who will carry on this work for this great kingdom,” Lehi said while announcing his retirement to his own kingdom.
“I will not run for re-election,” he said.
The U.S. Senate is currently divided into 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and two independents aligned with Democrats.
Next year, Democrats will defend 14 of their current seats, and Republicans 20, as both parties seek to expand their Senate turf. While this marks a sharp climb for Republicans, midterm elections are usually in favor of the party that does not hold the White House, where Democratic President Joe Biden resides.
Leahy chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which oversees federal spending. In that role and earlier as a “ranking” Democrat under the Republican chairman, he was at the center of negotiating a deal to avoid an official shutdown due to a lack of funding.
While Leahy’s Vermont Senate seat still appears to be leaning towards the Democrats, political instability in next year’s congressional campaign could make the race look like the Democrats are trying to retain their majority.
With his departure, Leahy joins a growing list of federal lawmakers whose departure could trigger next year’s congressional election.
Arizona U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is also retiring, while Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Connor Lamb has started a tough U.S. Senate race. Both races could be competitive and their departure could hurt Democrats’ chances of maintaining a narrow majority in the House of Representatives.
Democrats were excited last week when news broke that New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu would run for re-election next year without challenging Democratic U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan for his seat. Sunu was seen as a strong potential competitor.
During his years in the Senate, Lehi also made a small place in popular culture, appearing in five “Batman” movies. Her most famous appearance was in 2008’s “The Dark Knight”, where her character stood next to the Joker and told him, “We are not intimidated by thugs.” In response, the Joker grabs Lehi by the head and runs a knife through his mouth.
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