© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

In farewell speech, Vermont Sen. Leahy calls for restoration of the Senate's reputation

Retiring Vermont Sen. Senator Patrick Leahy
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Retiring Vermont Sen. Senator Patrick Leahy

Retiring Vermont U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy delivered his farewell address today.

Leahy is in the final days of a Senate career that began in 1975. The 82-year-old is retiring after eight terms and will be replaced in the Senate by longtime Congressman Peter Welch, a fellow Democrat — just the second to represent the Green Mountain State in the chamber after Leahy.

“After what many described as an improbable win, in a state that had never elected a Democrat or someone as young, I began my time in the Senate in the aftermath of a constitutional crisis,” he said. “We faced a nation broken by the Watergate scandal, the resignation of President Nixon and an endless war in Vietnam. And as I leave, the nation is coping with strains and challenges of other kinds including very real threats to the whole concept of a working democracy, the sanctity of our Constitution, our elections, and the strength of the rule of law. Another thing that I could never have imagined as that law student in the gallery was that one day this chamber itself, and the Capitol, would be stormed by a lawless and violent mob.”

Leahy used his farewell speech on the Senate floor to call for a return to the chamber’s bipartisan era.

“I fear those days are gone, but I pray just temporarily,” he said. “Because if we don’t start working together more, if we don’t know and respect each other, the world’s greatest deliberative body will sink slowly into irrelevance.”

The speech was part of the long goodbye for the Senate president pro tem, who announced his retirement in November 2021. His wife Marcelle has battled cancer and Leahy himself spent weeks in the hospital and rehab this year after two hip surgeries.

This month, Leahy attended a White House lunch with retiring Alabama Senator Richard Shelby and President Biden, a longtime Senator from Delaware who also came to the chamber in the 1970s.

Among those offering tributes Tuesday: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

“It’s the conclusion for an era here in the Senate. I want him to hear this. We will call this the Leahy era, for all you have done,” Schumer said. “It’s an era that began in the aftermath of Watergate and now concludes nearly fifty years and eight terms later. A legacy that includes so much: Appropriations Chair, Agriculture Chair, Judiciary Chair, President Pro Tem. And to be sure, he’s finishing his tenure precisely the way we’d all expect him to.”

Schumer said Leahy had been up throughout the night working on the federal budget that will outlast his tenure.

Leahy’s fellow Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said Leahy has left his mark on Vermont and the world.

“Sen. Leahy have worked together for many, many decades. He was very helpful to me when I was mayor of the city of Burlington, we worked together when I was a member of the House. And obviously we have worked together for Vermont since I have been in the Senate,” Sanders said. “And I think if you drive around the state, and we want you all to visit us — maybe not this weekend, when there’s a snowstorm — but come in the spring. You will see many of the impacts that Sen. Leahy has had on our state, from really one end of the state to the other.”

Leahy wrapped up by sharing his hope that the Senate will once again be “the conscience of the nation” after he is gone.

Sen. Patrick Leahy delivers a farewell address Dec. 20, 2022.
Sen. Patrick Leahy delivers a farewell address Dec. 20, 2022.

“Representing Vermonters has been the greatest honor. I am humbled, and always will be, by their support, and I am confident in what the future holds. But that will be up to all of you,” Leahy said.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
Related Content