Final Reading: Sanders officially skipped for labor sec.; Vt. sees ripple effects of Senate flip

Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy
Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy. File photos by Kit Norton and Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Welcome to the 2021 legislative session.  Today’s Final Reading compiled by Kit Norton.


The dream of Bernie Sanders as labor secretary is officially over.

On Friday, President-elect Joe Biden said in televised remarks that he seriously considered nominating Sanders to the position, but both men decided maintaining a Democratic majority in the Senate was too important.

“We can’t put control of the Senate at risk on the outcome of a special election in Vermont,” Biden said Friday. “[Sanders] agreed we couldn’t take that chance.”

Vermont law requires the governor to call a special election within six months of a Senate vacancy and allows the governor to appoint an interim senator to hold the seat in the meantime. 

It’s not clear exactly what concerned Biden the most. Perhaps the only Republican who could win a special election in Vermont is Gov. Phil Scott, who is immensely popular with Democrats and independents — and won reelection in November with close to 69 percent of the vote. 

A September VPR-PBS poll had Scott beating longtime Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in a potential 2022 matchup.

But Scott made clear last year that he would not run in a special election or appoint himself to the seat temporarily — and he said he’d name an interim senator who would caucus with the Democrats.

Then again, maybe Biden wasn’t willing to wager control of the U.S. Senate on one man’s word.

Tuesday’s U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia, in which Democrats narrowly won both races and gave their party a tenuous majority in the Senate, have created a ripple effect in Vermont.

Sanders and Leahy are each poised to chair a powerful committee, which may decrease the odds that either will soon retire.

Leahy, who turns 81 in March, will chair the Appropriations Committee, which would position him to bring in the bucks for Vermont. He’ll also serve as president pro tempore of the Senate, a largely ceremonial position that comes with perks — such as a prime office in the Capitol, a security detail and a spot in the line of presidential succession.

Leahy’s current six-year term expires in 2022. Prior to the Georgia runoffs, sources close to Leahy were speculating that he was leaning toward retiring. With his new position, that may have changed.

Sanders is 79; his current six-year term expires in 2024.

Another Leahy term would mean that up-and-coming Vermont pols, including Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, House Speaker Jill Krowinski, newly elected Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, and potentially Scott himself would have to wait a bit longer.

What all this means is that the logjam at the federal level could remain, with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch stuck in the House of Representatives — with one eye on any possible openings in the chamber across Capitol Hill.