Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D)

Rhode Island

N/A

whitehouse.senate.gov

Biography

Elected: 2006, term expires 2018, 2nd term.

Born: October 20, 1955, New York City

Home: Providence

Education: Yale U., B.A. 1978, U. of VA, J.D. 1982

Professional Career: RI spec. asst. atty. gen., 1984-90; Legal counsel, Gov. Bruce Sundlun, 1991; Policy director, Gov. Bruce Sundlun, 1992; Director, RI Dept. of Business Regulation, 1992-1994; U.S. atty. for RI, 1994-1998; Practicing atty., 2003-2006.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Protestant

Family: married (Sandra) , 2 children

Rhode Island’s junior senator is Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat elected in 2006. He is a persistent warrior for his party’s liberal wing who champions a full marquee of its causes—climate change, gun control, income equality, campaign finance reform, and same-sex marriage.

Whitehouse is a wealthy descendant of Charles Crocker, one of California’s “Big Four” men who built the Central Pacific Railroad, the eastbound section of railroad that connected with the Union Pacific line at Promontory Summit, Utah, to form the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. His grandfather was a diplomat, and so was his father, Charles Whitehouse, a World War II Marine Corps pilot who became U.S. ambassador to Laos and Thailand in the 1970s. Sheldon Whitehouse was born in New York City and spent his formative years overseas, including in Cambodia, South Africa, the Philippines, and Guinea; as a teenager, he taught English to Vietnamese children in Saigon. He graduated from St. Paul’s preparatory school, Yale College, and the University of Virginia Law School. Afterward, Whitehouse clerked for an appeals court judge and then moved to Rhode Island to take a job as an assistant state attorney general.

He was appointed a top staffer for Gov. Bruce Sundlun in 1991 and served two years as head of the state’s department of business regulation. In 1994, on the recommendation of Democratic Sen. Claiborne Pell, a family friend, Whitehouse was appointed U.S. attorney for Rhode Island. Whitehouse launched an undercover investigation that resulted in the conviction of Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci for public corruption. He also focused on environmental cleanup, leading an investigation that resulted in the largest fine in state history for an oil spill in Narragansett Bay.

In 1998, Whitehouse ran for state attorney general. In the three-way Democratic primary, his opponents portrayed him as an inexperienced, fox-hunting patrician trying to buy his way into public office. But Whitehouse was better known in the state than his opponents, and he got the nomination. In the general election, state Treasurer Nancy Mayer forced Whitehouse to concede that he had tried drugs as a student and questioned whether he was tough enough for the job. Whitehouse told The Providence Journal, “The book on me was, ‘Smart kid, works hard, but, you know, has no common touch, can’t relate to people, will be a disaster.’ In fact, I got advice from some political types to run sort of a Rose Garden strategy. You know, ‘Don’t go out, don’t let people see you, ’cause if they see you, they’re not going to like you. Just mail your resume around, you know, and spend a lot of money on television.’” But the tide began to turn after Mayer ran highly negative ads on the drug issue that backfired in the absence of evidence that the incident was more than a short chapter from Whitehouse’s distant past. He won the election, 67% to 33%.

By 2002, Whitehouse was widely viewed as a contender for governor. He ran but lost the Democratic primary by 926 votes to Myrth York, who outspent Whitehouse by more than 2-to-1 and lost in November to Republican Donald Carcieri.

Whitehouse also considered running for the Senate in 1999, when four-term incumbent John Chafee announced he would not seek a fifth term. But then, Chafee, a Yale roommate of Whitehouse’s father, died that November, and Republican Gov. Lincoln Almond appointed the senator’s son, Lincoln Chafee, then mayor of Warwick, to fill the vacancy. The following year, Chafee won a full term. In the Senate, Chafee sided with Democrats often enough that there was frequent speculation that he would switch parties. In 2006, Chafee was opposed in the Republican primary by Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, a conservative and a sharp-elbowed campaigner who was backed by the national anti-tax group Club for Growth. Though Chafee won the September primary, 54%-46%, he had little cash left after the fight.

Whitehouse challenged Chaffee and had a relatively easy time in the Democratic primary. In the fall, there was little daylight between the candidates on issues—both backed federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, abortion rights, and gun control—so Whitehouse campaigned against the then-unpopular Bush administration, running ads with the tagline, “Finally, a Whitehouse in Washington you can trust.” Whitehouse won 54% to 46%. He won 72% of the vote in Providence, 66% in Pawtucket, 61% in East Providence, 64% in Woonsocket, and 77% in Central Falls. Chafee won 54% in Warwick, he carried Kingston and Westerly’s Washington County, and he ran not much better than even in Newport and Bristol counties. Whitehouse was one of eight new Democratic senators whose election gave the party a majority in the Senate.

Whitehouse consistently has been among the Senate’s leading liberals. He gave the keynote speech at the Netroots Nation conference of liberal bloggers in 2012 and successfully worked to lure the following year’s conference to Providence. He supported President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill in 2009 and said he’d even like to see a second stimulus bill focused entirely on the nation’s infrastructure. Whitehouse’s tendency toward hyperbole occasionally sparks controversy. He irked conservatives when he said on the Senate floor that opposition to Obama’s health care reform measure was driven in part by “right-wing militias and Aryan support groups.” He also charged in October 2012 that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint “gets rid of Medicare in 10 years and turns it into a voucher program,” which the fact-checking site PolitiFact rated as false.

But Whitehouse can be stubborn about sticking up for his causes. For several years, he has taken to the Senate floor to give speeches about the perils of climate change, accusing Congress in January 2013 of “sleepwalking through history” for not paying enough attention to the problem. He and like-minded Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., formed a joint House-Senate task force on the issue that month. Whitehouse also loudly clamored for a Senate vote on the “Buffett Rule” imposing higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Republicans blocked it from clearing the necessary 60-vote hurdle in April 2012. Whitehouse has become the ideological heir to former Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold in seeking to control the influence of money in elections.

He sponsored successful 2010 legislation that authorized the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the volume of television ads. His amendment facilitating prosecution of anyone using lasers to attack airplanes passed the Senate 96-1 in 2011. On other issues, Whitehouse, with Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, cosponsored a bill in 2009 to free users of credit cards carrying interest rates 15% above Treasury bonds from the obligation to repay in bankruptcy proceedings. When cyber security legislation became hung up in partisan battles in 2012, Whitehouse worked with conservative Arizona GOP Sen. Jon Kyl to hammer out a compromise, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid then refused to advance.

Whitehouse first gained recognition in Congress as a fierce Bush administration critic on the Judiciary Committee. He blasted Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez for firing U.S. attorneys for what Democrats alleged were political motivations. After Gonzalez resigned, Whitehouse opposed the nomination of Michael Mukasey for refusing to say whether water boarding was an illegal tactic against terrorism detainees. After Obama’s election, he became a stalwart administration defender. When the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre asserted at a January 2013 committee hearing that only 62 firearm purchases denied by the federal instant-check system had been referred for prosecution, Whitehouse shot back that the actual number was 11,700 in 2012, or “a lot more than 62.” During a 2012 campaign appearance in Rhode Island, Vice President Joe Biden said he had offered to put forward Whitehouse’s name for the Supreme Court, but that the senator refused, citing his desire to serve his full term.

In heavily Democratic Rhode Island, Whitehouse entered the 2012 campaign season as a clear favorite. His Republican opponent was software executive Barry Hinckley, who campaigned as a moderate on social issues despite calling for the repeal of the health care reform law and supporting offshore oil drilling. But he faced an uphill battle, and Whitehouse won 65%-35%.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-2921

(202) 228-6362

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 530
Washington, DC 20510-3905

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-2921

(202) 228-6362

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 530
Washington, DC 20510-3905

DISTRICT OFFICE

(401) 453-5294

(401) 453-5085

170 Westminster Street Suite 1100
Providence, RI 02903-2109

DISTRICT OFFICE

(401) 453-5294

(401) 453-5085

170 Westminster Street Suite 1100
Providence, RI 02903-2109

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Aerospace

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Agriculture

Brenna Barber
Legislative Assistant

Animal Rights

Brenna Barber
Legislative Assistant

Appropriations

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Banking

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Budget

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Campaign

Commerce

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Crime

Lara Quint
Legislative Counsel

Education

Brenna Barber
Legislative Assistant

Andrew Bronstein
Education Policy Fellow

Energy

Emily Enderle
Environmental Policy Advisor

Aaron Goldner
Energy and Environment Counsel

Environment

Emily Enderle
Environmental Policy Advisor

Dylan Handelsman
Legislative Correspondent

Aaron Goldner
Energy and Environment Counsel

Finance

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Foreign

Colleen Costello
Legislative Correspondent

Chris Mewett
Legislative Assistant

Govt Ops

Brenna Barber
Legislative Assistant

Gun Issues

Lara Quint
Legislative Counsel

Health

Anna Esten
Associate Legislative Assistant

Jennifer DeAngelis
Senior Health Policy Advisor

Homeland Security

Chris Mewett
Legislative Assistant

Housing

Brenna Barber
Legislative Assistant

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Human Rights

Immigration

Insurance

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Intelligence

Judiciary

Land Use

Adena Leibman
Ocean and Coastal Policy Fellow

Medicare

Jennifer DeAngelis
Senior Health Policy Advisor

Military

Chris Mewett
Legislative Assistant

Minorities

National Security

Colleen Costello
Legislative Correspondent

Native Americans

Joseph Gaeta
Legislative Director

Public Works

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Science

Brenna Barber
Legislative Assistant

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Seniors

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Small Business

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Social Security

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Tax

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Technology

Brenna Barber
Legislative Assistant

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Lara Quint
Legislative Counsel

Telecommunications

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Trade

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Transportation

Brenna Barber
Legislative Assistant

Josh Karetny
Chief Economic Counsel; Deputy Legislative Director

Veterans

Chris Mewett
Legislative Assistant

Women

Lara Quint
Legislative Counsel

Election Results

2012 GENERAL
Sheldon Whitehouse
Votes: 271,034
Percent: 64.96%
B. Barrett Hinckley
Votes: 146,222
Percent: 35.04%
2012 PRIMARY
Sheldon Whitehouse
Unopposed
2006 GENERAL
Sheldon Whitehouse
Votes: 206,043
Percent: 54.0%
Lincoln Chafee
Votes: 178,950
Percent: 46.0%
2006 PRIMARY
Sheldon Whitehouse
Votes: 69,290
Percent: 82.0%
Christopher Young
Votes: 8,739
Percent: 10.0%
Carl Sheeler
Votes: 6,755
Percent: 8.0%
Prior Winning Percentages
2006 (54%)

To order a print copy of the 2016 edition of the Almanac of American Politics, click here. For questions about print orders, call Columbia Books at 1-888-265-0600 ext 0266 or email customer service.

For questions about the digital Almanac, please contact your Dedicated Advisor or Membership@NationalJournal.com.

×