Patrick Leahy

Patrick Joseph Leahy (/ˈlhi/; born March 31, 1940) is an American politician serving as the senior United States Senator from Vermont, a seat to which he was first elected in 1974. A member of the Democratic Party, Leahy held the position of president pro tempore of the United States Senate from December 17, 2012 to January 6, 2015, and was thus during that time third in the presidential line of succession. Now in his eighth six-year term of office, he is currently (since the December 2012 death of Daniel Inouye) the most senior member of the Senate, and is also the last of the Senate's "Watergate Babies"  Democrats first elected to Congress in 1974, following President Richard Nixon's August 9, 1974 resignation over the Watergate scandal.[1] Additionally, Leahy remains the only sitting U.S. Senator to have served during the presidency of Gerald Ford. Leahy received the title of President pro tempore emeritus in January 2015.

Patrick Leahy
United States Senator
from Vermont
Assumed office
January 3, 1975
Serving with Bernie Sanders
Preceded byGeorge Aiken
President pro tempore emeritus of the United States Senate
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Preceded byTed Stevens
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
December 17, 2012  January 3, 2015
Preceded byDaniel Inouye
Succeeded byOrrin Hatch
Chairman of the
Senate Judiciary Committee
In office
January 3, 2007  January 3, 2015
Preceded byArlen Specter
Succeeded byChuck Grassley
In office
June 6, 2001  January 3, 2003
Preceded byOrrin Hatch
Succeeded byOrrin Hatch
Chairman of the
Senate Agriculture Committee
In office
January 3, 1987  January 3, 1995
Preceded byJesse Helms
Succeeded byRichard Lugar
State's Attorney of Chittenden County
In office
May 10, 1966  January 2, 1975
Preceded byJohn Fitzpatrick
Succeeded byFrancis Murray
Personal details
Patrick Joseph Leahy

(1940-03-31) March 31, 1940
Montpelier, Vermont, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Marcelle Pomerleau (m. 1962)
EducationSaint Michael's College (BA)
Georgetown University (JD)
WebsiteSenate website

The current dean of the state's congressional delegation, Leahy is Vermont's longest-serving U.S. Senator, and as of 2018 is the only Democrat the state has ever elected to the Senate. He is the former chairman of the Agriculture and Judiciary Committees, and has served as the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee since 2017. In 2001, Leahy was one of the two U.S. Senators targeted by the anthrax attacks that killed five people.

He is the longest-serving Democrat in the current 116th Congress.

Early life and family

Leahy was born in Montpelier, Vermont, the son of Alba (née Zambon) and Howard Francis Leahy, a printer. His maternal grandparents were Italian, and his father was of Irish ancestry; some of his ancestors came to Vermont in the 19th century to work at the granite quarries and manufacturing plants in Barre Town and Barre City.[2]

He graduated from Saint Michael's College in 1961 with a bachelor of arts degree in political science, and received his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 1964.[3] He was an associate at the firm headed by Philip H. Hoff, then Governor of Vermont.[4] In May 1966 Hoff appointed him to fill a vacancy as State's Attorney of Chittenden County.[5] Leahy was elected to a full term in 1966[6] and reelected in 1970.[7] His service as state's attorney was notable for his participation in a sting operation that caught Paul Lawrence, an undercover police officer for several agencies in Vermont who falsely claimed to have purchased illegal drugs from several people, which resulted in convictions based on his false testimony.[8]

Leahy married Marcelle Pomerleau in 1962; she is bilingual with French Canadian heritage from Quebecois immigrants to Vermont. They have resided in a farmhouse in Middlesex, Vermont, since moving from Burlington, and have three children: Kevin, Alicia and Mark. In 2012 the Leahys celebrated their 50th anniversary, with Leahy saying, We hate it when we're apart from one another.[9] Leahy has been legally blind in his left eye since birth.[10][11]

U.S. Senator

Early career (1975–1999)

Leahy was elected to the United States Senate for the first time in November 1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandal that had resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August of that year. He won a close race against Vermont's lone congressman, Richard Mallary, and succeeded retiring 34-year incumbent George Aiken.[12] At 34 years old, he was the youngest Senator in Vermont history.[13] As of 2015, Leahy and Minnesota Representative Rick Nolan were the only two remaining Watergate Babies in Congress, though Nolan left Congress in 1981 and returned in 2013. After Nolan retired from Congress in 2019, Leahy became the only remaining Watergate baby in Congress.[14]

Leahy was nearly defeated in 1980 by Republican Stewart Ledbetter, winning by only 2,700 votes amid Ronald Reagan's landslide victory.[15] In 1986, he faced what was on paper an even stronger challenger in former Governor Richard Snelling, but Leahy turned it back, taking 64 percent of the vote. In 1992, Secretary of State of Vermont Jim Douglas held him to 54 percent of the vote. Leahy has not faced a substantive Republican challenger since then.

Leahy was the first non-Republican Senator from Vermont since 1856. He is the only Democrat ever elected to the Senate from Vermont, and one of only three Democrats to represent Vermont in either house of Congress since the end of the Civil War. However, since 2001, two other Vermont Senators have caucused with the Democrats. Jim Jeffords was elected as a Republican before he became an Independent. His successor, Bernie Sanders, was elected as an Independent; he won and then refused the Democratic Party nomination in 2006.

In May 1981 Leahy and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy requested that the Senate reject the nomination of John Crowell Jr. as Assistant Agriculture Secretary, with Leahy stating his opposition was "because documents have been uncovered since his approval by the Agriculture Committee which suggest that he was aware of and involved in the anti-competitive and monopolistic practices of his former employer."[16] Leahy and Kennedy contended that Crowell concealed his involvement with Louisiana-Pacific, Panhandle Logging Company, and Ketchikan Spruce Mills during the confirmation process.[17] Crowell was confirmed by the Senate.[18]

In 1981 Leahy introduced an amendment that would have increased the enforcement budget for the Energy Department by $13 million. He called the Reagan administration's cuts to the enforcement budget "de facto amnesty" for violations made by alleged increases in prices for oil companies. The amendment was defeated in the Senate on October 28, by a vote of 48 to 43.[19]

On December 2, 1981, Leahy voted in favor[20] of an amendment to President Reagan's MX missiles proposal that would divert the silo system by $334 million as well as earmark further research for other methods that would allow giant missiles to be based. The vote was seen as a rebuff of the Reagan administration.[21][22]

In March 1982 Leahy was named to the Senate Select Committee to Study Law Enforcement Undercover Activities of the Department of Justice, an eight-member select committee formed to investigate undercover operations.[23] The resolution introducing the committee was the result of the resignation of Harrison Williams for his involvement in the Abscam sting operation.[24][25]

On December 23, 1982, Leahy voted in favor[26] of a 5¢ per gallon increase on gasoline taxes across the US to aid the financing of highway repairs and mass transit. The bill passed on the last day of the 97th United States Congress.[27][28]

On October 19, 1983, Leahy voted in favor of a bill establishing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.[29] Reagan signed the legislation the following month.[30]

In March 1984 Leahy voted against a proposed constitutional amendment authorizing periods in public school for silent prayer,[31] and against Reagan's unsuccessful proposal for a constitutional amendment permitting organized school prayer in public schools.[32][33]

In 1987, during his tenure as Vice-Chairman of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Leahy showed a news reporter an unclassified draft report on the Iran-Contra affair. At a press conference, Leahy stated, "Even though it was declassified, I was way too careless about it," and accepted blame. Disclosure of that information was against Intelligence Committee rules, and Leahy said he hastened his already planned departure from the committee because he was so angry at himself.[34]

In February 1992 the Bush administration and Israeli officials struggled to compose a deal that would entice both sides to proceed with a loan guarantee package. After a meeting between Secretary of State James Baker and Zalman Shoval failed to generate a compromise,[35] Baker informed Leahy of the meeting's contents and Leahy announced that he would be introducing his own compromise plan in the event that the United States and Israel could not come to an agreement in the following weeks.[36] Later that month, the Bush administration announced the United States would present Israel with loan guarantees only if the Israeli government halted settlement building. Leahy was supportive of the measure and introduced his own proposal that retained the $10 billion in loan guarantees, but "disbursed at a pace up to $2 billion a year for five years."[37]

On November 20, 1993, Leahy voted in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement.[38] The trade agreement linked the United States, Canada and Mexico into a single free trade zone, and was signed into law on December 8 by President Bill Clinton.[39]

Clinton publicly weighed reducing funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) by half. In March 1994, during a news conference, Leahy pledged that he would preserve funding for TEFAP, noting his 1987 lawsuit against Agriculture Secretary Richard Edmund Lyng and declaring that TEFAP maintained the same level of significance as it did then.[40] In August 1994 Leahy attended a news conference with the health advocacy group Public Voice as it urged the federal government to take more ambitious steps to increase the healthiness of school lunches, Leahy praising the 41 schools involved with Public Voice for setting a good example for the remainder of the country and citing the importance of school lunches to education.[41] The 1994 midterm elections resulted in Republicans taking a majority in the House for the first time since the 1950s,[42] and conversation arose of limiting feeding programs. Leahy remarked, "Not since the Great Depression has the possibility of millions of children lining up at soup kitchens been so real."[43] Leahy cosponsored legislation with Republican Richard Lugar that led to the downsizing of the Agriculture Department. In December 1994 it announced it was closing 1,274 field offices around the US, a scaling back that was estimated to save the United States over $3 billion within the following five years. Leahy said the Agriculture Department was the only federal agency to be successful in downsizing efforts and called on other agencies to follow its example.[44]

In 1994 Leahy introduced legislation to encourage schools to ban soft drinks and other food items of "minimal nutritional value."[45] Leahy acknowledged the benefits vending provided for other positive areas: "These vending profits go for good causes. But when it comes to vending machine junk food, it would be better to put pupils ahead of vending profits." The legislation was met with opposition by the Coca-Cola Company and other representatives from the beverage industry as well as some education organizations.[46] The law was enacted.

In October 1999 Leahy voted in favor of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The treaty was designed to ban underground nuclear testing and was the first major international security pact to be defeated in the Senate since the Treaty of Versailles.[47][48]

Later career (1999–present)

The 1998 election was noteworthy in that Leahy had the endorsement of his Republican opponent, Fred Tuttle. Tuttle was a retired farmer and the lead actor in the mock documentary film Man with a Plan, shot in Vermont, in which a farmer decides to run for Congress. After winning the Republican nomination in a campaign designed to both promote the movie and mock ostensible GOP frontrunner Jack McMullen, who had only recently moved to Vermont, Tuttle recommended that voters support Leahy. Leahy was touched by this gesture; he and Tuttle made several joint appearances during the campaign, and Leahy said of Tuttle that he was the "distilled essence of Vermonthood".

The September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center shifted American foreign policy focus to terrorism. In December 2006, during an appearance at the law school of Georgetown University, Leahy said that after the September 11 attacks, "the White House accelerated its power plays at the expense of the other branches of government, all in the name of fighting terrorism." He added that the administration had declined to answer "the legitimate oversight questions of the public's duly elected representatives" as well as broken the law by wiretapping Americans without warrants.[49] On September 13, 2002, Leahy said in a radio interview that an investigation should be launched into whether the West Nile virus was a biological terrorism effort.[50] During a July 1, 2007, interview, Leahy said he was not against lawful eavesdropping and recommended a revision to the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act so potential terrorists could be investigated without question.[51] Leahy added that the White House had been subpoenaed so Bush administration officials could explain "the legal justification they tried to follow when, for years, they wiretapped ordinary Americans and everyone else put out a warrant."[51]

Leahy was one of two Senators targeted in the 2001 anthrax attacks. The anthrax letter meant for him was intercepted before it reached his office. In 2004, Leahy was awarded the Electronic Privacy Information Center's Champion of Freedom Award for efforts in information privacy and open government. He is regarded as one of the leading privacy advocates in Congress.[52]

Leahy has been active in the international effort to ban the production, export and use of anti-personnel land mines.[53] In 1992 Leahy penned a bill to prohibit the export of land mines, the first law of its kind. [54]

In 2000 Leahy cosigned a letter sent to Appropriations Committee conference members, requesting a delay in implementing Section 304 in H.R. 4392, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001[55] until it could be fully considered by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. The amendment would introduce new felony crime laws concerning the unauthorized disclosure of information. Leahy and his colleagues indicated this would be in conflict with existing First Amendment rights and Whistleblower Protection Acts.[56][57]

On June 22, 2004, Leahy and Vice President Dick Cheney participated in the U.S. Senate class photo. After the vote, Cheney was only talking to Republicans. When Leahy asked him to come over and talk to the Democrats, Cheney upbraided Leahy for the Senator's recent excoriations of Halliburton's activities in Iraq. At the end of the exchange, Cheney told Leahy, "Go fuck yourself".[58][59] Leahy joked about the incident in 2007 when he escorted Bernie Sanders, Vermont's newly elected senator, to the well of the Senate where he was sworn in by Cheney: "When it comes to the vice president, it's always better to be sworn in than to be sworn at."[60]

In March 2004 Leahy and Orrin Hatch introduced the Pirate Act backed by the RIAA. In July 2004, Leahy and Hatch introduced the INDUCE Act. Both were aimed at combating copyright infringement.[61]

On November 2, 2004, Leahy easily defeated his opponent, businessman Jack McMullen, with 70.6% of the vote. On January 5, 2005, Leahy was sworn in for his sixth term in the Senate by Cheney.

On September 21, 2005, Leahy announced his support for John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. On January 19, 2006, Leahy announced that he would vote against Judge Samuel Alito to be a justice of the Supreme Court. He has a mixed record on gun control, being one of the few Senate Democrats to vote against the Brady Bill. He voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and is in favor of phasing out farm subsidies that are supported by the populist wing of the Democratic Party. He voted against the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Leahy voted for the Defense of Marriage Act[62] and was one of the few in his party to support the ban on intact dilation and extraction procedures.

In 2005 Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group, presented Leahy and Senator John Cornyn with its first ever Bi-Partisan Leadership Award in honor of their cooperation on issues of government oversight and transparency, including their co-sponsorship of the OPEN Government Act of 2005, which prevented burying exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act in legislation.[63]

Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy

On March 2, 2006, Leahy was one of 10 senators to vote against the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act, a bill to extend the USA PATRIOT Act. The Reauthorization Act changed the appointment process for interim United States attorneys, allowing the Attorney General of the United States to make interim appointments without term limit or Senatorial confirmation. This was an aspect of hearings in the dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy. Both houses voted to overturn the interim appointment provision in March 2007.

On January 18, 2007, Leahy received widespread coverage for his cross-examination of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the Maher Arar affair and the extraordinary rendition of Arar to Syria.[64]

Leahy endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, and recorded a radio advertisement for the Obama campaign to be aired in Vermont.[65]

In May 2009 President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Sotomayor received criticism for having said "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life". In June, Leahy discussed the remark with Sotomayor during their meeting and secured her consent to recount the comment. According to Leahy, the comment meant she believed one's life experiences influence who they are, but that judges of all ethnic backgrounds are still required to follow the law, which is the same for every American.[66] In August, on the day of Sotomayor's confirmation, Leahy defended her record against Republican critics: "Judge Sotomayor's career and judicial record demonstrates that she has always followed the rule of law. Attempts at distorting that record by suggesting that her ethnicity or heritage will be the driving force in her decisions as a justice of the Supreme Court are demeaning to women and all communities of color."[67]

On September 20, 2010, Leahy introduced the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, Senate Bill S. 3804, which would allow the court to issue a restraining order or injunction against Internet domain names which infringe upon copyright.[68]

In May 2011 Leahy introduced the Protect IP Act (PIPA) to the Senate. The bill was drafted to give the U.S. government and copyright holders additional tools to fight copyright piracy and counterfeit goods trafficking by foreign rogue websites. Critics of the bill said it would be ineffective, impede free expression on the internet, and interfere with its infrastructure. Leahy subsequently indicated that he would favor further research into provisions that raised objections.[69]

Leahy was chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee from 1987 until 1995 and chairman of the Judiciary Committee from 2001 to 2003 and from 2007 to 2015. He is one of the key Democratic leaders on Senate issues on rules for filling federal judgeships via advise and consent. Leahy serves as second-highest Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and as Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. In his position as the second-highest Democrat on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Leahy serves as Chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Research, Nutrition and General Legislation.

Upon the death of Senate President pro tempore Daniel Inouye on December 17, 2012, Leahy became the most senior senator in the majority party, and was elected as the new President pro tempore by unanimous consent.[70][71] He was succeeded in this post by Orrin Hatch on January 3, 2015, and became President pro tempore emeritus.

In February 2013,Leahy was one of 24 senators to sign a letter asserting that Sikh, Hindu and Arab Americans were often targets of violence because they were mistaken for radical Muslims and citing a need for the federal government to "begin tracking information about anti-Sikh, anti-Hindu and anti-Arab hate crimes as soon as possible so that law enforcement can more effectively respond to this threat."[72]

In June 2013 Leahy filed three amendments to an immigration reform package, including one that proposed recognizing same-sex marriages when one spouse is an American. He said that implementation of the amendment would end discrimination in the American immigration system and that seeking "equal protection under our laws for the LGBT community is the right thing to do."[73]

According to GovTrack, Leahy is the senator who has sponsored the most bipartisan bills. 61% of bills had both Democratic and Republican co-sponsors.[74]

In January 2015 Leahy headed a congressional delegation to Cuba meant to "impress upon Cuban leaders the importance of concrete results and positive momentum". It was American officials' first visit to Cuba since President Obama announced normalized relations between the US and Cuba the previous month.[75]

In July 2015, after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was unveiled, an international agreement on the nuclear program of Iran,[76] Leahy issued a statement saying it was preferable to war and calling it "unfortunate" that some members of Congress opposed the deal as the lack of deal would allow Iran to further develop nuclear weapons.[77][78]

In January 2017, during a hearing, Leahy asked Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions whether he believed grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent was sexual assault, in reference to comments made by President-elect Donald Trump on the Access Hollywood tape that had surfaced during the election cycle. Leahy also asked Sessions if he would be able to "prosecute and investigate" a president or elected official who had been accused of committing the aforementioned act.[79]

In April 2017 Leahy was one of 11 senators to cosponsor a bill that would have restored a FCC rule requiring internet service providers to obtain permission from customers before selling data about them to advertisers that had been repealed earlier in the week.[80]

On June 1, 2017, weeks after the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Leahy and Al Franken released a joint statement disclosing their prior request of Comey to investigate all contacts and communications Attorney General Sessions or his aides had with Russian government officials and raised the question of whether Sessions had committed perjury in his Senate testimony.[81]

In September 2017 Leahy was one of eight senators to vote against the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a defense policy bill that included $640 billion in base defense spending and $60 billion in war funds.[82]

In November 2017 Leahy was one of ten Democratic senators to sign a letter urging Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu to halt the planned demolitions of Palestinian villages Khan al-Ahmar and Sussiya on the grounds that such action would further impede efforts to seek a two-state solution and "endanger Israel's future as a Jewish democracy."[83]

On January 18, 2018, Leahy announced he would not support the stopgap measure for the fiscal year to avert a government shutdown, saying the House bill left "too much undone, and it is woefully inadequate". Leahy added that bipartisan support for the bill would only come from collaborating with Democrats and charged Republicans with "appealing for our support only after they've written a mishmash bill crafted behind closed doors."[84][85] After the United States federal government shutdown of January 2018 commenced,[86] Leahy was one of 18 Senators to vote against temporary funding.[87]

In February 2018 Leahy was one of four senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis requesting that the Pentagon estimate the cost of and time needed to assemble President Trump's requested military parade, calling the parade seemingly "inappropriate and wasteful" at a time of war.[88]

In March 2018 Leahy wrote a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley in which he expressed his fear that "the damage being done to the FBI, and to our nation's institutions more broadly, will far outlast any current crises unless we take decisive, bipartisan action" and requested an oversight hearing on the Trump administration's criticisms of the FBI and Justice Department.[89]

In September 2018, as the Senate weighed the first spending package for the 2019 fiscal year, Leahy advocated for increasing the spending cap for a veteran's care program. When this proposal was not implemented in the final version of the package, which consisted of military construction and veterans' affairs, legislative branch, and energy and water, Leahy warned the decision would leave the VA choice program unfunded.[90]

In October 2018 Leahy, along with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez, and Lindsey Graham, sent President Trump a letter requesting that he begin an investigation of the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The letter asked Trump to report the findings within 120 days along with a decision on whether to impose sanctions on those found responsible.[91] Later that month, Leahy was one of eight senators to sign a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats requesting a classified briefing on what the American intelligence community knew about threats to Khashoggi so that the senators may fulfill their "oversight obligation" as members of Congress.[92] In March 2019 Leahy was one of nine Democratic senators to sign a letter to Salman of Saudi Arabia requesting the release of human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair and writer Raif Badawi, women's rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul and Samar Badawi, and Dr. Walid Fitaih. The senators wrote, "Not only have reputable international organizations detailed the arbitrary detention of peaceful activists and dissidents without trial for long periods, but the systematic discrimination against women, religious minorities and mistreatment of migrant workers and others has also been well-documented."[93]

In December 2018, after United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Trump administration would suspend its obligations in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 60 days if Russia continued to violate the treaty, Leahy was one of 26 senators to sign a letter expressing concern over the administration's "now abandoning generations of bipartisan U.S. leadership around the paired goals of reducing the global role and number of nuclear weapons and ensuring strategic stability with America's nuclear-armed adversaries" and calling on President Trump to continue arms negotiations.[94]

Committee assignments

Political positions

Leahy has held progressive political positions that are generally in line with those of the state.


He has generally supported abortion rights, rejecting proposals to limit minors or those stationed on military bases from having the procedure performed. He has voted against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1995, and for it between 1997 and 2003.[96][97]

On March 11, 1982, Leahy voted against a measure sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch that sought to reverse Roe v. Wade and allow Congress and individual states to adopt laws banning abortions. Its passing was the first time a congressional committee supported an anti-abortion amendment.[98][99]


In 2019 Leahy worked with Senators Sherrod Brown, Susan Collins, and David Perdue on a bipartisan effort to ensure students have access to local foods. The proposal would bolster the Farm to School Grant Program administered by the Agriculture Department and raise the program's authorized level from $5 million to $15 million, in addition to furthering the maximum grant award to $250,000.[100]

In March 2019 Leahy was one of 38 senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue warning that dairy farmers "have continued to face market instability and are struggling to survive the fourth year of sustained low prices" and urging his department to "strongly encourage these farmers to consider the Dairy Margin Coverage program."[101]

In May 2019 Leahy and eight other Democratic senators sent Perdue a letter that criticized the USDA for purchasing pork from JBS USA, calling it "counterproductive and contradictory" for companies to receive funding from "U.S. taxpayer dollars intended to help American farmers struggling with this administration's trade policy." The senators requested that the department "ensure these commodity purchases are carried out in a manner that most benefits the American farmer’s bottom line—not the business interests of foreign corporations."[102]

In June 2019 Leahy and 18 other Democratic senators sent USDA Inspector General (IG) Phyllis K. Fong a letter requesting that she investigate USDA instances of retaliation and political decision-making and arguing that not to conduct an investigation would mean these "actions could be perceived as a part of this administration’s broader pattern of not only discounting the value of federal employees, but suppressing, undermining, discounting, and wholesale ignoring scientific data produced by their own qualified scientists."[103]

Antitrust, competition and corporate regulation

In June 2019 Leahy was one of six Democrats led by Amy Klobuchar who signed letters to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice recounting that many of them had "called on both the FTC and the Justice Department to investigate potential anticompetitive activity in these markets, particularly following the significant enforcement actions taken by foreign competition enforcers against these same companies" and requesting that each agency confirm whether it had opened antitrust investigations into each of the companies and that each agency pledge to publicly release any such investigation's findings.[104]


Leahy supports states' rights to make their own cannabis laws. He proposed a companion to the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment which would extend protections to states that have legalized cannabis in some form. It became known as the Leahy Amendment, and prevents the federal government from spending federal tax dollars to prosecute people who are following their state's cannabis laws.[105][106]

Child care

In 2019, Leahy and 34 other senators introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act, a bill that created 770,000 new child care jobs and ensured that families making less than 75% of the state median income did not pay for child care, with higher earning families having to pay "their fair share for care on a sliding scale, regardless of the number of children they have." The legislation also supported universal access to high-quality preschool programs for all 3- and 4-year-olds, changed compensation for the child care workforce, and provided training to aid both teachers and caregivers.[107]

Civil justice

In February 2016 Leahy introduced the "Restoring Statutory Rights Act" [108] to "prevent companies from imposing forced arbitration in cases covered by consumer protection laws, as well as employment discrimination and other civil rights matters."[109][110]

Civil rights and privacy

Leahy has been supported by the NAACP and is outspoken in his support for affirmative action. He has supported the legalization of gay marriage and reducing discrimination against gays and lesbians. Leahy has called for the domestic partners of federal employees to receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples.[111]

Leahy is a lead sponsor of the Senate version of the Email Privacy Act, which would reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 and enhance privacy protections for email. He sponsors this bipartisan bill with Republican Mike Lee of Utah.[112][113]

Criminal justice

Leahy has called for a moratorium on the death penalty and more DNA testing for death row inmates. He supports rehabilitation as the goal of prisons and providing treatment instead of punishment for first-time offenders.

In February 2015 Leahy and Republican Ron Paul revived the Justice Safety Valve Act, legislation granting federal judges authority to bestow sentences lower than the mandatory punishment in certain cases where the sentence violates standards for fair punishment as defined elsewhere in American law.[114]

In October 2017 Leahy cosponsored a bill aimed at easing sentences for some nonviolent offenders, such as for drug crimes, while beefing up other tough-on-crime laws. The bill would have abolished the three-strike mandatory life sentence for some repeat drug offenders and authorized enhanced penalties for some individuals with previous convictions for serious violent and drug felonies.[115]

On July 31, 2019, after Attorney General William Barr announced that the federal government would resume carrying out the death penalty for the first time in over 20 years, Leahy, Cory Booker, and Dick Durbin introduced a bill that would ban the death penalty. Leahy said that capital punishment fails "by any objective measure", citing its finality and juries' propensity to mistakenly convict.[116]


Leahy was a longtime critic of the Iraq War, and spoke in favor of timetables for troop withdrawal, stating that the country needs well-trained employees in both foreign service and private industry to help repair damage to its civilian structure. He has been critical of the PATRIOT Act, even though he has voted to reauthorize altered versions of it.[111] In June 2013, following the disclosure of PRISM and other covert surveillance activities by the National Security Agency, Leahy introduced a bill that would tighten guidelines related to the acquisition of FISA warrants for domestic surveillance and shorten the current FISA authorization by two years.[117]

Leahy has always opposed the opening and operation of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.[118][119]


On taxation, Leahy has consistently supported progressive rates. He has rejected proposals to remove the Estate Tax and Alternative Minimum Tax, and he has spoken out strongly against cutting taxes for the wealthy. Leahy has strongly supported the rights of employees, and has voted to increase the minimum wage and allow for more union organization. He has voted against a free trade proposal, CAFTA, but supported normalizing trade relations with China.[111]


Leahy has been a strong supporter of environmental policy. He has supported bills that would increase hydrogen car production, uphold Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, set a goal of reducing oil consumption by 40 percent in 2025, and increase solar and wind power funding.

Climate change

In 2011 Leahy voted against limiting EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.[120] In 2013 he voted against a concurrent resolution creating a point of order which would make it harder for Congress to put a price on carbon.[121][122] In 2015 he voted in support of Obama's Clean Power Plan.[123] On his Climate Change page, he states that "human activity, since the Industrial Revolution, has contributed, in large part, to the changes in climate".[124] He has supported the establishment of greenhouse gas tradeable allowances and has spoken out against the use of ethanol as a solution to rising gasoline prices.[111]

In June 2017, after President Trump announced the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Leahy called the move a "great leap backward", adding that pandering "to a handful of billionaires and special interests would impose huge harm upon our generation, upon future generations, and upon our fragile planet." He said he intended "to ensure that this stroke of the president's pen does not derail Vermonters' hard work and leadership to protect our communities from climate risk, and that it does not deter the entrepreneurs and innovators in Vermont and other states who are expanding the world markets for the clean green energy and conservation technologies that will shape our future."[125]

In February 2019, in response to reports that the EPA intended to decide against setting limits for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in drinking water as part of an upcoming national strategy to manage the chemicals, Leahy was one of 20 senators to sign a letter to Acting EPA Administrator Andrew R. Wheeler calling on the agency "to develop enforceable federal drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, as well as institute immediate actions to protect the public from contamination from additional per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)."[126]


In October 2016 Leahy was one of five senators to sign a letter to President Obama requesting that the administration halt work on the Dakota Access Pipeline until the permitting process of the Army Corps could "be transparent and include public notice and participation, formal and meaningful tribal consultation, and adequate environmental review", and stating their support for the "tribes along the pipeline route in their fight against the Dakota Access pipeline project."[127]

First Amendment

Leahy spoke strongly against a proposed constitutional ban on flag burning and on its implications for freedom of speech and expression. He rejects school prayer initiatives.[128]

Gun laws

Leahy has generally supported gun control, including requiring background checks at gun shows and allowing for lawsuits against firearms manufacturers. He voted in favor of prohibiting foreign and UN aid that inhibits gun ownership.[111]

In January 2019 Leahy was one of 40 senators to introduce the Background Check Expansion Act, a bill that would require background checks for either the sale or transfer of all firearms, including unlicensed sellers. Exceptions to the bill's background check requirement included transfers between members of law enforcement, loaning firearms for either hunting or sporting events on a temporary basis, giving firearms to members of one's immediate family, firearms being transferred as part of an inheritance, or giving a firearm to another person temporarily for immediate self-defense.[129]

In February 2019 Leahy was one of 38 senators to sign a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham calling on him to "hold a hearing" on universal background checks and noting Graham's statement in the press that he "intended to have the Committee work on 'red flag' legislation and potentially also background checks, both actions" the senators indicated their support for.[130]

Health care

Leahy has stated the importance of increasing the prevalence of public health care during times of economic downturn. He voted to increase Medicare benefits and to allow this organization to negotiate lower-priced, bulk prescriptions from pharmaceutical manufacturers. Leahy has broken with Democratic leadership in supporting allowing states to make bulk drug purchases on their own, an idea he has characterized as an important short-term solution until Congress can agree on a similar proposal.

In a May 2012 speech on the Senate floor, Leahy advocated that Chief Justice John Roberts uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act: "The conservative activism of recent years has not been good for the court. Given the ideological challenge to the Affordable Care Act and the extensive, supportive precedent, it would be extraordinary for the Supreme Court not to defer to Congress in this matter that so clearly affects interstate commerce."[131]

In March 2017, after House Republicans withdrew the American Health Care Act, Leahy released a statement touting the accomplishments of the Affordable Care Act and charging Republicans with trying to undo the record with a bill that was really "a massive tax cut for the wealthiest Americans."[132]

In September 2017 Leahy was one of 16 Senators to co-sponsor the Medicare For All Act, introduced by his fellow Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, which would establish a Single Payer Healthcare system in the United States.

In December 2018 Leahy was one of 42 senators to sign a letter to Trump administration officials Alex Azar, Seema Verma, and Steve Mnuchin arguing that the administration was improperly using Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act to authorize states to "increase health care costs for millions of consumers while weakening protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions." The senators requested the administration withdraw the policy and "re-engage with stakeholders, states, and Congress."[133]

In February 2019 Leahy and 22 other Democratic senators introduced the State Public Option Act, a bill that would authorize states to form a Medicaid buy-in program for all residents and thereby grant them the ability to buy into a state-driven Medicaid health insurance plan if they wished. Brian Schatz, a bill cosponsor, said the legislation would "unlock each state’s Medicaid program to anyone who wants it, giving people a high-quality, low-cost public health insurance option" and that its goal was "to make sure that every single American has comprehensive health care coverage."[134]

Human rights

In 2016 Leahy joined ten House of Representative members asking the State Department to investigate suspected human rights violations by Egyptian and Israeli security forces, in particular citing claims of extrajudicial killings which may trigger the Leahy Law, a law that can cause the suspension of all American military aid to countries guilty of such abuses.[135] While Leahy has signed resolutions in support of Israel's right to self-defense, he has also been critical of alleged human rights violations in the region, especially after the 2008 Operation Cast Lead. In 2011, Leahy initially promoted a bill to cut the military aid to three elite IDF units, after reports of human rights violations during the Gaza flotilla raid and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.[136]

Internet privacy

In April 2017, after President Trump signed a law undoing a Federal Communications Commission rule requiring internet service providers to obtain their customers' permission to sell their data to advertisers, Leahy was one of 11 senators to sponsor legislation undoing the repeal and reinstating the regulations.[137]


In February 2018, after the Supreme Court declined to immediately consider the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Leahy said that Congress should have acted on immigration reform the previous year and urged Congress to act, while admitting the Supreme Court decision had reduced pressure to pass legislation quickly.[138]

In June 2018 Leahy, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Joni Ernst wrote a letter to United States Defense Secretary James Mattis saying that they were "deeply troubled by the department's decision to send twenty-one active and reserve JAGs to the border on temporary orders to prosecute immigration cases", expressing the view that dispatching "twenty-one trial counsel from military courtrooms to prosecute immigration cases is an inappropriate misapplication of military personnel", and urging Mattis to maintain the military lawyers within the military justice system.[139]

In August 2018 Leahy was one of 17 senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen demanding that the Trump administration take immediate action in attempting to reunite 539 migrant children with their families, citing each passing day of inaction as intensifying "trauma that this administration has needlessly caused for children and their families seeking humanitarian protection."[140]

In September 2018, after nearly $10 million of the Federal Emergency Management Agency budget was transferred to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Leahy said in a statement, "I am hopeful that the administration will see the consequences of its actions and begin to work with Republicans AND Democrats to actually address the problems in our immigration system. Fomenting fears against immigrants is not governing — it's demagoguery on the taxpayer's dime. It needs to stop now."[141]

In January 2019 Leahy was one of 20 senators to sponsor the Dreamer Confidentiality Act, a bill banning the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from passing information collected on DACA recipients to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Justice, or any other law enforcement agency with exceptions in the case of fraudulent claims, national security issues, or non-immigration related felonies.[142]

In July 2019, following reports that the Trump administration intended to cease protecting spouses, parents and children of active-duty service members from deportation, Leahy was one of 22 senators led by Tammy Duckworth to sign a letter arguing that the protection gave service members the ability "to fight for the United States overseas and not worry that their spouse, children, or parents will be deported while they are away" and that its termination would both cause service members personal hardship and negatively affect their combat performance.[143]


In March 2017 Leahy was one of 21 senators led by Ed Markey to sign a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that said that 12% of adult Medicaid beneficiaries had some form or a substance abuse disorder, that one-third of treatment for opioid and other substance use disorders in the United States is financed by Medicaid, and that the American Health Care Act could "very literally translate into a death spiral for those with opioid use disorders" due to inadequate funding, often resulting in individuals abandoning substance use disorder treatment.[144]


In May 2018 Leahy was one of 12 senators to sign a letter to Trump urging him not to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal on the grounds that "Iran could either remain in the agreement and seek to isolate the United States from our closest partners, or resume its nuclear activities" if the US pulled out and that both possibilities "would be detrimental to our national security interests."[145]


In April 2019, following the Trump administration's refusal to distribute money to West Bank and Gaza "because of perceived intransigence on peace talks by the Palestinians and payments to the families of those who have attacked Israelis", Leahy was one of six Democratic senators to introduce a resolution restoring US humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.[146]

LGBT issues

In October 2018 Leahy was one of 20 senators to sign a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to reverse the rolling back of a policy that granted visas to same-sex partners of LGBTQ diplomats who had unions that were not recognized by their home countries, writing that too many places around the world have seen LGBTQ individuals "subjected to discrimination and unspeakable violence, and receive little or no protection from the law or local authorities" and that refusing to let LGBTQ diplomats bring their partners to the US would be equivalent of upholding "the discriminatory policies of many countries around the world."[147]

North Korea

In June 2018 Leahy was one of seven Democrats to sign a letter cautioning President Donald Trump that they would not support lifting sanctions against North Korea unless a nuclear agreement between it and the US met five standards outlined in the letter.[148] In a statement after the North Korea–United States summit, Leahy commended Trump "for beginning direct negotiations" but added that it was troubling that Trump "agreed to unilaterally halt military exercises with South Korea without verifiable commitments from North Korea to denuclearize, while giving Kim the recognition he has long craved."[149]


In December 2010 Leahy voted for the ratification of New Start,[150] a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation obliging both countries to have no more than 1,550 strategic warheads and 700 launchers deployed during the next seven years, and providing for a continuation of on-site inspections that halted when START I expired the previous year. It was the first arms treaty with Russia in eight years.[151]

In February 2017 Leahy was one of 11 senators to sign a letter to United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressing their concern "about credible allegations that the Trump campaign, transition team, and Administration has colluded with the Russian government, including most recently the events leading to the resignation of Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser." The senators requested the creation of "an independent Special Counsel to investigate collusion with the Russian government by General Flynn and other Trump campaign, transition and Administrative officials" in order to maintain "the confidence, credibility and impartiality of the Department of Justice".[152]


Leahy has been at the center of several scandals revolving around the leaking of classified or secret information.[153] In 1987 he was reported to have leaked the Reagan administration's operational plans to topple Muammar Gaddafi to The Washington Post, resulting in the termination of the operation.[154] Leahy also admitted to leaking a Committee report on the Iran-Contra investigation to NBC reporters, leading to his resignation from the Senate Intelligence Committee.[155][156] During a television interview in 1985 he disclosed a communications intercept in Egypt that led to the capture of the terrorists of the Achille Lauro cruise ship,[153] and the Reagan administration accused him of writing a letter to the CIA threatening to expose plans to undermine the Gaddafi government.[156]


Leahy has consistently voted to uphold Social Security and has opposed school vouchers.[111]


In 2013 Leahy received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.[157]

The Congressional Management Foundation awarded Leahy a "Silver Mouse Award" for his use of the Internet in his Senate work.[158]

Personal life

Leahy is a fan of the Grateful Dead. He has not only attended concerts, but has a collection of the band's tapes in his Senate Offices. Jerry Garcia visited him at his Senate offices, and Leahy gave a tie designed by Garcia to Senator Orrin Hatch (who responded by giving Leahy a Rush Limbaugh tie). Surviving band members Bob Weir and Mickey Hart have participated in fund-raisers for Leahy and his Political Action Committee, the Green Mountain Victory Fund. Leahy appeared in a videotaped tribute to the Dead when they received a lifetime achievement award at the 2002 Jammys. His Senate website notes this response to a question from seventh-grade students from Vermont's Thetford Academy who asked Leahy which Dead song was his favorite, he replied: "... my favorite is "Black Muddy River" but we always play "Truckin'" on election night at my headquarters."

Leahy is a published photographer.[159] He is a Roman Catholic who attends Saint Andrew's Church in Waterbury, Vermont. He also attends Holy Trinity Catholic Church when he is in Washington, D.C.[160]

In October 1991, Leahy was taken to Arlington Hospital for a series of tests following his becoming ill during the Senate vote to confirm Clarence Thomas as Associate Justice. His spokesman Joseph Jamele said the decision to go to a hospital was made after Leahy had a pain in his chest.[161]

Comic book fan

Leahy is a fan of comic books, and in particular the character Batman. He wrote the foreword to The Dark Knight Archives, Volume 1 (a 1992 collection of the first four Batman comic books), the preface essay for Batman: Death of Innocents (a 1996 graphic novel about the horrors of landmines), and the introduction to Green Arrow: the Archer's Quest (a single-volume collection of a six-issue story arc).

Leahy has also made several cameo appearances in Batman television episodes and films, beginning with an uncredited cameo in Batman Forever (1995).[162][163] He voiced a territorial governor in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Showdown" (1995), appeared as himself in the film Batman & Robin (1997), and appeared twice in the Dark Knight Trilogy as a Wayne Enterprises board member. In The Dark Knight (2008), he tells the Joker "We're not intimidated by thugs", to which the Joker replies, "You know, you remind me of my father. I hated my father."[164] In The Dark Knight Rises (2012), he defended the legacy of the Wayne family against attempts to usurp the company by industrialist John Daggett.[165] Leahy also appeared in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, playing Senator Purrington, in a scene set during a Senate hearing which is subsequently destroyed by an explosion.[166]

All royalties and fees from Leahy's roles are donated to charities, primarily the Kellogg–Hubbard library in Vermont where he read comic books as a child.[163][167]


Title Year Role Notes
Batman Forever 1995 Himself Uncredited Cameo
Batman: The Animated Series 1995 Territorial Governor 1 Episode: "Showdown"
Batman & Robin 1997 Himself Cameo
The Dark Knight 2008 Wayne Enterprises Board Member
The Dark Knight Rises 2012
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 2016 Senator Purrington

Electoral history

See also


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Further reading

Party political offices
Preceded by
Robert Johnson
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Vermont
(Class 3)

1974, 1980, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2004, 2010, 2016
Most recent
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
George Aiken
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Vermont
Served alongside: Robert Stafford, Jim Jeffords, Bernie Sanders
Preceded by
Jesse Helms
Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee
Succeeded by
Richard Lugar
Preceded by
Edward Zorinsky
Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee
Succeeded by
Tom Harkin
Preceded by
Joe Biden
Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee
Succeeded by
Orrin Hatch
Preceded by
Orrin Hatch
Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee
Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee
Succeeded by
Arlen Specter
Preceded by
Arlen Specter
Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee
Succeeded by
Chuck Grassley
Preceded by
Chuck Grassley
Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee
Succeeded by
Dianne Feinstein
Preceded by
Barbara Mikulski
Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Political offices
Preceded by
Daniel Inouye
President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate
Succeeded by
Orrin Hatch
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Daniel Inouye
Dean of the U.S. Senate
Most senior Democrat in the U.S. Senate
Title last held by
Ted Stevens
President pro tempore emeritus of the U.S. Senate
Order of precedence
First United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Chuck Grassley
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