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Patrick Leahy, longest serving US senator still in office, announces he won't seek reelection

Following nearly five decades in Congress, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy does not plan to run for reelection.

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Following nearly five decades in Congress, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy does not plan to run for reelection.

Leahy announced his decision Monday morning during a press conference at the State House. It marks the end of an era in Vermont politics that will likely set in motion a domino effect of Democrats vying for the federal position.

"It is time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter who will carry on this work for our great state," Leahy said, holding back tears. "It's time to come home."

Leahy, who is 81 years old, is the longest-serving active member of the senate. He was first elected to the position in 1974 and is serving his eighth term; it is set to expire in January 2023.

His work has also played a large role in giving Vermont — the second-smallest state by populace — an oversized influence in Congress. Leahy currently chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and sits third in the line of succession to the presidency, in addition to serving as the senior-most member of the Judiciary Committee.

Earlier this year, Leahy, during his third stint as president pro tempore of the Senate, presided over the second impeachment trial of then-President Donald Trump.

During his near half-century in the Senate, Vermont shifted from one of the most solidly Republican states in the country to one of its most progressive. He will depart with a record of promoting human rights and serving as a champion of the environment, especially Lake Champlain, which separates northern Vermont and New York.

Leahy said he was proud of his service to his state and his work to make a difference for residents of Vermont.

"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," he said.

By retiring and creating the first vacancy in Vermont’s congressional delegation since 2006, Leahy sets up a scramble to succeed him among a number of the state’s up-and-coming politicians.

It comes with the Senate divided into equal halves between Republicans and Democrats, including two independents known to caucus with the party.

Matthew Dickinson, a political science professor at Middlebury College, said a likely choice to succeed Leahy would be Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, the state’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"I think he would be the logical candidate, and that would set up the musical chairs about who replaces him in Congress," Dickinson said.

Republican Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, who has received abnormally high support among constituents outside his own party, has repeatedly asserted he has no interest in running for federal office. He issued a statement Monday morning recognizing Leahy's achievements.

"Sen. Leahy has committed his life to serving the people of Vermont and he will be missed as one of our voices in Washington," Scott wrote in a social media post. "He has made immeasurable contributions to our state and nobody is more deserving of a long and happy retirement than the senator and [his wife] Marcelle."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.