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

Biography

Elected: 1974, term expires 2016, 7th term.

Born: March 31, 1940, Montpelier

Home: Middlesex

Education: St. Michael's Col., B.A. 1961, Georgetown U., J.D. 1964

Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1964–74.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Catholic

Family: married (Marcelle) , 3 children

Patrick Leahy, Vermont’s senior senator, was first elected in 1974 and is now the chamber’s longest-serving member. As a stalwart progressive and the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Leahy is as much of an influential ally of President Barack Obama as he was a stubborn antagonist of President George W. Bush.

Leahy grew up in Burlington, went to law school at Georgetown University, and then returned home to practice law. He was elected Chittenden County state’s attorney in 1966, at age 26, and still often invokes his years in that job during hearings and in interviews. After eight years as state’s attorney, he ran for the U.S. Senate at age 34. It was 1974, and Leahy had made a name for himself in the tiny state as the Burlington-area prosecutor who tried all major felony cases personally and who attacked the big oil companies during the 1970s energy crisis. He had a solid base in Democratic Burlington, together with the kind of quiet, thoughtful temperament that Vermonters like in their public officials. He outpolled Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Mallary by a narrow margin to win the Senate seat.

Over the years, Leahy made his mark as the chairman of Judiciary, which handles many of the cultural issues—such as abortion and gun control—that have polarized the two parties and their constituencies. In spite of his liberalism and periodic flashes of temper, Leahy wins positive marks from Republicans. “He’s a good listener who will take into account the views of others,” Maine Sen. Susan Collins told The Boston Globe. The more conservative Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran told The Associated Press: “I’m fond of him. I shouldn’t be, but I am.”

Leahy became the seventh longest-serving senator in history in 2015. With the death of Hawaii’s Daniel Inouye, he could have moved over to chair the powerful Appropriations panel, but chose to stay on Judiciary. One big reason was that it offered him the opportunity to handle two issues that could shape his legacy: the first attempt at comprehensive immigration reform in six years and the first major gun-control legislation in nearly two decades. He was an unlikely figure on the latter issue: An avid gun enthusiast, he was a member of his college shooting team and still enjoys the sport. But he has a mixed legislative record that earned him a “C” rating from the National Rifle Association.

Nevertheless, with Democrats demanding action in the wake of the December 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Leahy took up the challenge. He moved a series of bills through his committee to bar the trafficking of guns and straw purchases and to strengthen other law enforcement tools to assist investigations of those crimes. His legislation also included a ban on assault weapons, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused go along with on the grounds that it lacked the votes for passage. Even so, the overall gun measure fell apart during floor debate in April 2013 over a controversial proposal from West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Pat Toomey to expand the background check process for would-be gun buyers. It could not draw the 60 votes necessary to end a GOP filibuster.

On immigration, Leahy held a series of hearings to try to build support for reform while leaving much of the legislative work to a bipartisan group of eight senators. He showed his combativeness in April when he accused Republicans of politicizing the issue by tying their objections to the Boston Marathon bombings, which involved two suspects from Chechnya. No one, Leahy declared at a hearing, should “be so cruel as to try to use the heinous acts of two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions.”

Leahy was an early supporter of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential primaries, and has largely been in sync with his administration. He helped guide Obama’s first two Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, to swift confirmation, even while working with a new ranking Republican, Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, who was considerably more partisan than his predecessor in that role, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter. Leahy accused Republicans of seeking to play the race card against Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina justice, and of gender bias toward Kagan.

Leahy had mixed results on other issues during Obama’s first term. He got an overhaul of the nation’s patent system into law in September 2011, ending a seven-year stalemate. But he was unable to get through legislation aimed at cracking down on online piracy and counterfeiting. And Senate Republicans blocked numerous Obama nominees to federal district and appeals courts, causing him to lament in April 2013, “I have repeatedly asked Senate Republicans to abandon their destructive tactics.”

In the 1990s, when Republicans were in the majority, Leahy criticized them for holding up President Bill Clinton’s judicial appointments, and he stoutly defended Clinton during the impeachment proceedings in 1998 and 1999. When Leahy became chairman during the Democrats’ 19 months in the majority in 2001 and 2003, he, in turn, held up the Republicans’ judicial nominations. As ranking minority member of the committee from 2003 to 2007, Leahy led filibusters against 10 appeals court nominees, tactics that the Republicans bitterly attacked. Leahy noted that the committee had approved the vast majority of appellate nominees and almost every trial court nominee, and argued that he had been fairer to Bush’s appointees than Republicans had been to Clinton’s. Leahy’s brass-knuckle tactics irked some Republicans, including Vice President Dick Cheney, who infamously cursed at the Democrat on the Senate floor during a 2004 photo shoot.

In 2005, Leahy led the minority’s questioning of Bush’s Supreme Court nominees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, both of whom were ultimately confirmed by the Senate. The liberal senator surprised many when he voted to approve the conservative Roberts. “I came here to do what I thought was right, and as a Vermonter I can do nothing different,” Leahy said. He also asked tough questions of Alito, and that time he voted no. He said, “This president is in the midst of a radical realignment of the powers of government and its intrusiveness into the private lives of Americans. This nomination is part of that plan.”

Another major chapter in Leahy’s tenure as chairman was handling legislation that grew out of the September 11 terrorist attacks. He and his staff worked with the Bush administration to hammer out the USA Patriot Act, the sweeping law that sparked a national debate over whether government investigators should be given broader powers at the expense of individual liberties. It was essentially the Senate version, not the House bill, that was enacted in October 2001. But Leahy fought the administration when it sought to expand police powers in the wake of the attacks. He opposed a proposal to allow the government to detain and deport immigrants suspected of terrorism without presenting evidence in court. In 2002, he said that the Justice Department should be required to disclose the number of U.S. citizens being spied on, the number of secret foreign intelligence wiretaps that had become part of criminal proceedings, and the total number of persons targeted by foreign-intelligence surveillance warrants.

In 2005, Leahy objected to the government’s surveillance of communications between suspected al-Qaida terrorists abroad and people in the United States. As chairman in 2007, he made life difficult for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales by requesting an internal investigation of whether Gonzales had told the truth about the warrantless wiretapping program. Leahy subsequently placed Gonzales’s successor, Michael Mukasey, on the spot with demands that he denounce the use of water boarding, an interrogation tactic that simulates drowning and that has been used on terrorism suspects.

Around the Capitol, Leahy is known for his hobbies. He is a gadgeteer and an amateur photographer, whose work has been published in The New York Times and elsewhere. He is also an avid student of popular culture, and a huge fan of the Batman movies. (He appeared briefly in three of the films, with a speaking part in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Leahy tells the Joker, “We’re not intimidated by thugs.”) He can recite verses from Shakespeare and lyrics from the Grateful Dead rock band, and is friends with the Vermont band Phish. In 2003, he was the first member of Congress with a blog. Leahy’s fascination with technology helps to explain his interest in patent issues.

Another Leahy cause is the elimination of land mines. Since 1989, he has been crusading against the export and use of land mines, which are easy and cheap to implant yet difficult and expensive to remove. In 1994, Leahy persuaded the United Nations to unanimously call for the eventual elimination of land mines. He pushed Obama in 2010 to join an international treaty banning the mines, and in 2011 and 2013 introduced bills to restrict the use of cluster bombs. On other foreign policy and defense issues, Leahy tends to the left as well, and he was an outspoken critic of the Iraq war.

Leahy has been one of the few members of the Agriculture Committee who is not from a state with heavily subsidized crops such as wheat, corn, soybeans, and cotton. As the former ranking Democrat on the committee, he worked with Indiana Republican Richard Lugar in the 1990s to phase out the subsidy system. But after their success in passing the Freedom to Farm Act of 1996, crop prices fell, and lawmakers’ resolve dissipated. Congress took to supporting large annual subsidies in the form of emergency relief to farmers, and in 2002, Congress largely rolled back the 1996 act.

That is not to say that Leahy is not at times as parochial as the next senator. On Agriculture, he is a staunch defender of the interests of the roughly 1,000 dairy farms in Vermont. He got an extension of a safety-net program for dairy farmers into the January 2013 tax and spending bill, which was passed to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff.” In 2010, he secured more than $57 million in solo spending earmarks for his state—the 10th highest total among senators, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Leahy has had relatively easy reelection contests. His closest call was in 1980, when he narrowly survived that year’s Republican sweep. He defeated Republican Stewart Ledbetter just 50%-49%. Six years later, he was completely rehabilitated politically. He defeated popular Gov. Richard Snelling, 63%-35%.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-4242

(202) 224-3479

RSOB- Russell Senate Office Building Room 437
Washington, DC 20510-4502

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-4242

(202) 224-3479

RSOB- Russell Senate Office Building Room 437
Washington, DC 20510-4502

DISTRICT OFFICE

(802) 863-2525

(802) 658-1009

Courthouse Plaza 4th Floor
Burlington, VT 05401-8309

DISTRICT OFFICE

(802) 863-2525

(802) 658-1009

Courthouse Plaza 4th Floor
Burlington, VT 05401-8309

DISTRICT OFFICE

(802) 229-0569

Federal Building Room 338
Montpelier, VT 05602-9505

DISTRICT OFFICE

(802) 229-0569

Federal Building Room 338
Montpelier, VT 05602-9505

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

PO Box 1042
Montpelier, VT 05601

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

PO Box 1042
Montpelier, VT 05601

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Kathryn Toomajian
Legislative Assistant

Acquisitions

Chris Saunders
Field Representative

J.P. Dowd
Chief of Staff; Legislative Director; Senior Defense Advisor (Acting)

Aerospace

J.P. Dowd
Chief of Staff; Legislative Director; Senior Defense Advisor (Acting)

Appropriations

Chris Saunders
Field Representative

J.P. Dowd
Chief of Staff; Legislative Director; Senior Defense Advisor (Acting)

Lauren Brackett
Legislative Assistant

Arts

Kathryn Toomajian
Legislative Assistant

Budget

Maggie Gendron
Legislative Aide

Chris Saunders
Field Representative

J.P. Dowd
Chief of Staff; Legislative Director; Senior Defense Advisor (Acting)

Commerce

Maggie Gendron
Legislative Aide

Education

Kathryn Toomajian
Legislative Assistant

Frieda Arenos
Legislative Correspondent

Chris Saunders
Field Representative

Family

Kathryn Toomajian
Legislative Assistant

Chris Saunders
Field Representative

Foreign

J.P. Dowd
Chief of Staff; Legislative Director; Senior Defense Advisor (Acting)

Govt Ops

Sherman Patrick
Military Legislative Assistant

J.P. Dowd
Chief of Staff; Legislative Director; Senior Defense Advisor (Acting)

Health

Kathryn Toomajian
Legislative Assistant

Frieda Arenos
Legislative Correspondent

Chris Saunders
Field Representative

Homeland Security

Sherman Patrick
Military Legislative Assistant

Housing

Chris Saunders
Field Representative

Lauren Brackett
Legislative Assistant

Human Rights

Labor

Kathryn Toomajian
Legislative Assistant

Maggie Gendron
Legislative Aide

Medicare

Kathryn Toomajian
Legislative Assistant

Chris Saunders
Field Representative

Military

Sherman Patrick
Military Legislative Assistant

J.P. Dowd
Chief of Staff; Legislative Director; Senior Defense Advisor (Acting)

Minorities

Kathryn Toomajian
Legislative Assistant

Chris Saunders
Field Representative

Native Americans

Recreation

J.P. Dowd
Chief of Staff; Legislative Director; Senior Defense Advisor (Acting)

Social Security

Kathryn Toomajian
Legislative Assistant

Chris Saunders
Field Representative

Tax

Maggie Gendron
Legislative Aide

Trade

Sherman Patrick
Military Legislative Assistant

J.P. Dowd
Chief of Staff; Legislative Director; Senior Defense Advisor (Acting)

Transportation

Maggie Gendron
Legislative Aide

Veterans

Sherman Patrick
Military Legislative Assistant

J.P. Dowd
Chief of Staff; Legislative Director; Senior Defense Advisor (Acting)

Welfare

Women

Election Results

2010 GENERAL
Patrick Leahy
Votes: 151,281
Percent: 64.33%
Len Britton
Votes: 72,699
Percent: 30.91%
2010 PRIMARY
Patrick Leahy
Votes: 64,515
Percent: 89.1%
Daniel Freilich
Votes: 7,892
Percent: 10.9%
2004 GENERAL
Patrick Leahy
Votes: 216,972
Percent: 71.0%
Jack McMullen
Votes: 75,398
Percent: 25.0%
2004 PRIMARY
Patrick Leahy
Votes: 27,459
Percent: 95.0%
Prior Winning Percentages
2004 (71%); 1998 (72%); 1992 (54%); 1986 (63%); 1980 (50%); 1974 (50%)

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