Patrick & Marcelle Leahy. VBM photo.
State House, Montpelier, November 15, 2021, 10 am
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)
Thank you all for being here this morning. This room is special to both Marcelle and me, and not just because as a kid I used to ride my tricycle down these halls. Having grown up right across the street, Marcelle and I gathered here with our parents, our children Kevin, Alicia and Mark, and my sister Mary and announced my candidacy for the United States Senate. At the time, I was a 33-year-old, four-term Chittenden County state’s attorney, launching a campaign knowing that Vermont had never sent a Democrat to the United States Senate.
What propelled me was a belief that I understood the needs and values of Vermont and thought it was time for a new generation to address them. Dublin-born parliamentarian Edmund Burke’s speech to the Electors of Bristol served as my North Star. He said, “Your representative owes you not his industry only, but his judgment.” Burke also said that a representative “ought not sacrifice to you” his “conscience.”
After what many described as an improbable win, I began my time in the United States Senate in the aftermath of a constitutional crisis. We faced a nation broken by the Watergate scandal, the resignation of President Nixon and an endless war in Vietnam.
Within just a few months of taking office, and as the newest and most junior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, we were asked to vote to reauthorize and continue the war in Vietnam. In Vermont, where support for the war was strong, I had always opposed it. The authorization was defeated by one vote. I was proud to be that vote. My hope was Vermonters would respect my judgment and my conscience, even if they disagreed with my vote to end the war. I learned early in my career that good judgment and hard work are exactly what Vermonters expect from their representatives.
The hard work part began for me as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, where I would eventually become its Chairman. We used it to bring several ‘born in Vermont’ ideas to Capitol Hill, such as Farms for the Future and the Forest Legacy program. These programs have conserved hundreds of thousands of acres of working farmland and forestland in Vermont and throughout the country.
That is where I began a program that has since brought tens of millions of dollars to aid in the cleanup of Lake Champlain and now Lake Memphremagog. It was also the place where I was able to add more than 140,000 acres to Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest, one of the greatest treasures in our state.
And it was after Marcelle and I spent time in the homes of some farm families in Vermont that I was convinced we needed a law to set standards in organic farming. As Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, we were able to pass the law that established the national organics standards and labeling program, helping to launch an organic farm sector that now is a $55 billion a year industry and an important new avenue for Vermont’s farmers.
I also changed the Committee name to Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, because the former chairmen had left out nutrition. Again, by meeting with Vermonters all over the state, I realized the need to have a law that allowed SNAP benefits to be used in farmers' markets, to increase our student lunch programs, and to give the means to create the Farm to School program. Today, more than 30 million children receive nutritious school lunches and we have established a national program to source school lunches from local farms.
We also added competitive bidding to legislation for the popular but underfunded Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. Because of that change, today more than 7 million women, infants and children receive much needed food and formula. Every time Marcelle and I are home, we see these programs thriving and growing in Vermonters’ everyday lives.
Open land. Cleaner water. New markets for our farmers. Providing nutritious food for those in need. That will be a legacy to our state for generations.
On the Judiciary Committee, I served as Chairman or Ranking Member for 20 years. My oath was to protect the Constitution and I fiercely defended our civil liberties, the First Amendment, our right to privacy and the free flow of information from the government to the people it represents. This has resulted in legislation including the Innocence Protection Act, the Justice for All Act, and Freedom of Information Reform Act.
It was in this capacity that we advanced the first update to the Violence Against Women Act. In subsequent reauthorizations, we added protections for the LGBTQ community, Native American women and the sexual trafficking of children.
Serving on the Judiciary Committee also meant being there at times of crisis such as the attacks on 9-11. We not only had to protect our nation from outside threats, but from a zealous administration that advocated some of the most serious roll backs of basic civil liberties.
Year after year, I worked with and at times pushed back, on administrations and their judicial nominations. I always worked to keep the Federal Judiciary independent for all Americans, regardless of their political background. I recommended and worked to confirm some of the top judges in the land, including Christina Reiss, who became the first woman to serve on the Federal District Court in Vermont. And most recently, Beth Robinson’s historic appointment to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. I am proud of them, and of the many other superb Vermonters I recommended for the bench and other appointments.
After a couple of years, I was assigned to the Appropriations Committee.
My approach on Appropriations was simple: help all states in alphabetical order. Starting with the letter V, Vermont.
Perhaps the most beneficial tool to help Vermont are small state minimums. Because of these funds, Vermont had the tools and resources we needed for first responders after 9-11, when Tropical Storm Irene devastated our communities, and to help those afflicted by the scourge of the opioid epidemic.
My advocacy for the small state minimum most recently meant over $2.5 billion to help Vermont with the devastating impact of the COVID pandemic. It will also mean funds for long overdue projects and investments that can be transformative for Vermont.
These accomplishments have come because of that first commitment I made to Vermonters. A commitment to bring Vermont values to the challenges we face at home and around the world. Marcelle and I visited victims of landmines in hospitals and rescue facilities around the world. What we’ve seen has allowed me to write and pass the first law in the world banning the export of landmines. It also led to the Leahy War Victims Fund to help innocent victims of the indiscriminate weapons left long after wars have ended.
We have traveled to Vietnam to restore relations between our countries through assistance with landmine removal and mitigation of Agent Orange. Our trips there, backed by presidents of both parties, have shown what positive steps can do.
We have worked to re-establish relations with Cuba and are working to undo the misguided policy of the last administration. And I am especially proud of the Leahy Law which requires us to withhold American aid to units of government in other parts of the world involved with violations of human rights. It has long been regarded as the most effective human rights tool in our diplomatic arsenal.
Throughout it all, I was supported by family and the most remarkable women and men who worked with me both in Vermont and in Washington. I am uniquely blessed to have served with fellow Vermonters who share my deep love of and commitment to Vermont: Senator Bob Stafford…Senator Jim Jeffords…Senator Bernie Sanders…Congressman Peter Smith, and of course Congressman Peter Welch. Our collective efforts are why, in so many ways, Vermont continues to set an example for the rest of the nation to follow.
I am proud to be Vermont’s longest serving Senator because I know my time in the Senate has made a difference for Vermonters and often well beyond. I know I have been there for my state when I was needed most. I know I have taken our best ideas and helped them grow. I brought Vermont’s voice to the United States Senate and Vermont values across the world.
So yes, I am proud to be Vermont’s longest serving Senator. While I will continue to serve Vermont, Marcelle and I have reached the conclusion that it is time to put down this gavel. It is time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter who will carry on this work for our great state. It’s time to come home.
I will forever carry with me the enduring bond with my fellow Vermonters, whose common sense and goodness are what I strive to match as their representative. Thank you for being the inspiration and the motivation for all the good that has come from my work in the Senate. Rest assured our state and our nation will remain resilient and the next generation will ensure our democracy remains whole and thriving.
Today, I will join President Biden and other members of Congress at the White House. The President will sign into law the largest investment in our nation’s infrastructure since the Eisenhower administration and, despite all odds, has done so with bipartisan support. We will take on the challenging yet essential tasks of passing the reconciliation bill and the appropriations bills.
When I return to the Senate, I will tell the other members of the Senate what a privilege it has been to be one of only 1994 Senators in the history of our country. I will tell them how humbled I am by the support I received from my fellow Vermonters the 24 times my name appeared on the ballot.
I will tell my fellow senators that I will not be on the ballot next year. I will not run for reelection. It is important to me to announce that here at home, just a few yards from where I grew up as a child in Montpelier.
Representing you in Washington has been the greatest honor. I am humbled, and always will be, by your support, and I am confident in what the future holds.
Link to At-A-Glance Legacy Highlights Summary Belwo or HERE
AT-A-GLANCE – HIGHLIGHTS
THE LEGACY OF VERMONT’S SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY
A son of Vermont, born and raised in Montpelier, Patrick Leahy is an eight-time U.S. Senator. Never having lost a campaign, his name has appeared on the ballot in Vermont 24 times in runs for the U.S. Senate and for State’s Attorney. A 1961 graduate of St. Michael’s College in Winooski, and of the Georgetown University Law Center (1964), he has been married to Marcelle Pomerleau Leahy, a native of Newport, Vermont, and a Registered Surgical Nurse, for nearly 60 years. Together, they raised three children in both Vermont and Washington, and have throughout maintained the Leahy family home, a tree farm in Middlesex, Vermont. He is the longest serving U.S. Senator in Vermont history, the fourth longest serving U.S. Senator in American history, and has cast nearly 16,950 votes in the Senate. An avid and accomplished photographer, Leahy also has appeared in major motion pictures featuring his favorite super hero, Batman.
A LEGACY THAT SPANS DECADES
• Chairman or Ranking Member, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee – 1987-1997
• Chairman or Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee – 1997-2017
• Chairman or Ranking Member, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations – 1989-2021
• Chairman or Vice Chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee – 2017-present
• Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Intellectual Property – 2021-present
• President Pro Tempore, United States Senate – 2013-2015, 2021-present
• Co-Chair, Senate National Guard Caucus
• Co-Chair, Congressional Internet Caucus
Named Legislative Achievements:
• Leahy Law (the foremost tool used in promoting human rights abroad)
• Leahy War Victims Fund
• Leahy-Smith America Invents Act
• Patrick Leahy Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program
VERMONT’S SEAT AT THE TABLE
On the Appropriations Committee, which he now chairs, Patrick Leahy has given Vermonters a center seat at the table as national priorities are debated and enacted in the 12 annual Appropriations bills.
• Has steered billions of dollars in federal investments to Vermont -- most recently, in the drafting of this year’s COVID relief bills, where he successfully pressed for inclusion of small-state-minimums to ensure that Vermont’s needs are met
• When Tropical Storm Irene struck Vermont, made sure that federal agencies worked closely with Vermonters, and more than $500 million was provided to help Vermont rebuild and Vermonters restore their lives.
• Has secured annual funding for the iconic Lake Champlain, and for a wide range of other Vermont priorities, from resources to address the opioid epidemic, to restorative justice initiatives to innovative approaches, to supporting the Vermont dairy industry, to adding more than 140,000 acres to the Green Mountain National Forest
SUPPORTING VERMONT’S AG INDUSTRY THROUGH DAIRY, ORGANICS,
VALUE-ADDED FARM PRODUCTS, AND HUNGER POLICY
As a chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee he has brought many ‘born-in-Vermont’ ideas into nationwide policy and programs.
• Recognized as the ‘father’ of the national organic standards and labeling program
• Leader in the work to create and fund the Farm to School program
• Longtime leader on conservation and environmental issues, including forest legacy and conservation
• Co-author of the first ‘Green Farm Bills,’ which made the nation’s farmers into partners in meeting conservation goals
SOWING SEEDS OF ECONOMIC GROWTH AND JOB CREATION
Senator Leahy’s ongoing priority is building Vermont’s economy, tackling its economic challenges, and helping to create new jobs.
• Helped to establish the Northern Border Regional Commission, bringing millions in economic development grants to Vermont and neighboring states
• Directed funding to the Northeast Kingdom through a special federally designated Rural Economic Area Partnership Zone (REAP) that prioritizes applications for federal funding
• Partnered with Vermont communities in funding grassroots economic development projects and completing an award-winning program that has renewed and conserved several of Vermont’s historic downtowns
• Directed seed funding and capital for the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies incubator (VCET) to help entrepreneurs build their companies and employ Vermonters
• Organized the annual Vermont Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference, where more than 3000 Vermont women have gathered to learn and hone skills for business success
• Made sure that Vermont firms have an equal playing field for federal contracts
• Persistently promoted Vermont’s products and tourism, including through the annual Taste of Vermont in Washington, D.C.
DEFENDER OF CIVIL RIGHTS, VOTING RIGHTS, THE PUBLIC’S RIGHT TO KNOW, AND PRIVACY
As a longtime Chairman or Ranking Democrat of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and now as the Committee’s most senior member, he has long led on civil rights, voting rights and privacy issues.
• Author of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, to remedy two Supreme Court decisions that have decimated the 1965 Voting Rights Act
• Author of the Innocence Protection Act – the foremost death penalty reform in a generation -- which has widened the use of DNA evidence to exonerate the innocent and convict the guilty
• Longtime leader in expanding the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), strengthening the Crime Victims Fund, and eliminating the scourge of human trafficking
• Has participated in the confirmation hearing of every justice currently serving on the Supreme Court
• Longtime proponent of legislation to strengthen the Freedom Of Information Act, the nation’s premier transparency law, and an inductee into the FOIA Hall of Fame; recipient of the John Peter Zenger Press Freedom Award
• Author of the Leahy-Smith American Invents Act, making the first reforms to the nation’s patent system in more than half a century
BRINGING VERMONT VALUES TO INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
Leahy has long been regarded as the Senate’s foremost leader in the Senate on human rights issues in U.S. foreign policy.
• Author of legislation to ban the export of anti-personnel landmines – the first such ban in the world -- which was the impetus for an international treaty to ban them.
• The Leahy Law, which bars U.S. foreign aid support to units of foreign militaries that violate the rights of their citizens, has become the leading tool in the U.S. toolkit for enforcing human rights norms.
• The Leahy War Victims Fund is used by USAID throughout the world to help civilians maimed by landmines and other weapons of war.
• Longtime advocate for improving relations with Cuba and Vietnam, working with Democratic and Republican administrations to change the Cold War policies towards Cuba as well as restore diplomatic relations and support post war legacy programs in Vietnam.