Sen. Patrick Leahy set to retire in 2022. He's served Vermont since 1975.

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WASHINGTON — Sen. Patrick Leahy, the influential Vermont Democrat and Senate's president pro tempore, announced Monday that he will retire from the Senate after this term in Congress.

"Marcelle and I have reached the conclusion it is time to put down the gavel," Leahy said in announcing his retirement. "It is time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter who will carry on this work for a great state. It's time to come home."

Leahy, 81, is the chair of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee and the most senior lawmaker on the both the Judiciary and Agriculture committees. He has served in the Senate for nearly 50 years.

"I'm proud to be the longest serving senator because I know my time in the Senate has made a difference for Vermonters and I hope often well beyond," Leahy said.

The senator highlighted legislation he'd championed over the years, including efforts to grow the organic farming industry in the US, expand Vermont's state and federal forests and support small businesses across the country.

Leahy thanked his fellow Vermonters for "being the inspiration and motivation for all the good that has come from my work in the Senate." As the delegation's most senior lawmaker, Leahy also thanked Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch for their continued service, as well.

Leahy's retirement opens the field for a fierce primary in Vermont, a New England state known for its progressive yet idiosyncratic politics.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT,  presides over the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump in the Senate on Feb. 9, 2021.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, presides over the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump in the Senate on Feb. 9, 2021.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, had already endorsed Leahy for reelection in 2022 before Leahy announced his retirement. A broadly popular governor, Scott will now be eyed by both parties as a top contender to replace Leahy, potentially shifting control of the upper chamber.

Democrats are likely to jockey for the chance to replace Leahy. Vermont is the only state to never elect a woman to represent it in Congress, a factor likely to effect the primary field to replace Leahy.

“Senator Leahy is a lion of the Senate -- he reflects the very best values of the institution and through his service he has shaped the direction of our country for the better in countless ways," the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democrats' Senate campaign arm, said in a statement.

"Vermont is a blue state that has not elected a Republican to statewide federal office in more than 20 years, and Democrats look forward to winning this Senate seat in 2022," the committee continued.

First elected to the Senate in 1974, Leahy is the last of the "Watergate Babies" — Democrats who were elected in the wake of the late President Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal — still serving on Capitol Hill.

He is the only Democrat Vermont has ever elected to serve in the Senate.

An avid comic book fan, Leahy has appeared in six Batman movies throughout his career. In his spare time, he is an amateur photographer.

Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sen. Patrick Leahy to retire in 2022 after serving Vermont since 1975

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