Sen. Patrick Leahy reflects on retirement, new memoir

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(NEW YORK) — Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the most senior and longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate, will retire at the end of this year.

His new memoir, The Road Taken, describes his political career that spans more than four decades, including his recounting of the post-Watergate period in politics, the aftermath of 9/11 and the presidency of Donald Trump.

He spoke with ABC News’ Linsey Davis about his early memories, the changes he has seen in the culture of politics and his love of “Batman” comics.

PRIME: Senator Leahy, we thank you so much for joining us, sir.

LEAHY: I’m delighted to be here.

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PRIME: So let’s start back in your youth. Growing up in Vermont, your family lived so close to the state capitol that the story goes that your rode your tricycle through the statehouse halls and right into the governor’s office when you were just 6 years old. How did growing up so close to politics help ultimately inspire you to become a politician yourself?

LEAHY: Well, of course, it was a lot different. I mean, you walk into the statehouse, there’s no security back there. You could just walk out. We took it for granted. We kids would play there. We’d have a good time there. But then I started meeting everybody and started hearing about it. My father was a self-taught historian and he would talk about the history of the statehouse of Congress. And you kind of grew up feeling, well, we’re part of all this. And certainly that’s the way I felt.

PRIME: And looking back at the start of your career, when you began serving in the Senate at 34, how did entering that body at such a young age shape how you approached your work and priorities in the Senate?

LEAHY: Well, I do know that on my first day there, a very senior senator asked me how old I was, and I said 34. He said, ‘You ever think you’re too young to be in this place?’ I said, ‘Well, that’s what my opponent said, but I still got elected.’ I think he liked the fact that I actually stood up to him and we got along fine. But, you know, I was intrigued because when I was in law school, at Georgetown, I’d walk up the hill [and] just watch the Senate, watch the different people. And back then, you had a lot of debate, you had some of the best minds in both the Republican and the Democratic Party.

PRIME: And you’ve worked through several significant moments in our nation’s history, from post-Watergate to 9/11 and its aftermath, to the pandemic. Or now, of course, in another crucial moment after the Jan. 6 insurrection and its fallout. What concerns you most about where we are right now as a nation?

LEAHY: When I first came to the Senate, people with different political priorities respected the government, respected our laws, respected the fact that we have a future, which puts basic parameters on how you behave. What I worry about now is more and more people could care less about that interaction. And so people coming in, they came into the Senate chamber and demanded to know where the House members were and they didn’t even know where they were, they were misstating what the Constitution said… I never thought I’d see anything like this ever.

PRIME: And you said just a few moments ago that when you first joined, you had such a respect for your fellow senators, that they were some of the sharpest minds, that you looked forward to the debate and the discourse that was going to take place. Do you feel that we’ve lost something from that time?

LEAHY: I do. I feel one of the things we’ve lost is we don’t actually debate, people come in and make a statement that they’re hoping might get on the evening news. They don’t stay there and they actually don’t debate things. And are you going to have a partisan position one way or the other? That’s not the way it should be. I like to see senators actually come and debate, make sure everybody’s voices are heard, and then vote one way or the other.

PRIME: And lastly, sir, we can’t let you go without asking about one of your biggest passions, ‘Batman.’ You write about how you, quote, became a voracious consumer of ‘The Dark Knight’ comics. You said that you would take them home and read them under the covers, flashlight in hand, a reward for sweeping the floors of the printing shops. And you famously made cameos in five ‘Batman’ films. What’s drawn you so much to Batman? And what has it been like to be able to live out that childhood fantasy on the big screen?

LEAHY: I never thought I would. You know, I started reading. I had my first library card at 4 years old. I love reading ‘Batman.’ I love writing stories about it. And every single cent I’ve earned from the ‘Batman’ books I’ve written, the movies I’ve been in, go to the children’s library in Montpelier, Vermont. I had my first library card [there, and the library] at that time was in the basement of the adult library. Now it’s a whole separate wing. It’s for helping to encourage young people to read no matter what level they’re in.

PRIME: Thank you so much, Senator Leahy. Really appreciate your time and joining us. And to our viewers, you can purchase The Road Taken, A Memoir, wherever books are sold.

LEAHY: Thank you.

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