WASHINGTON — A masterful storyteller, Sen. Patrick Leahy shared anecdotes about senators of decades past during a recent visit with a reporter. One was a conversation with Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey that took place shortly after Leahy took office in 1975. Humphrey asked Leahy if he wanted to go on a Congressional trip to Moscow to meet with Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev.
The rest is best told from Leahy’s own recollection:
Humphrey: Patrick, you ever been to Moscow?
Leahy: Yeah — Moscow, Vermont.
Humphrey: We’re going to Moscow to see Brezhnev. I want you and Marcelle to come.
Leahy: What’s the airfare to Moscow?
Humphrey: We’ll take Jerry’s plane.
Humphrey: Jerry Ford. He’s the president — don’t you read the papers?
Leahy said the story became a running joke between him and Humphrey.
Leahy’s lighthearted antics were on display during the Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington last Thursday morning. The purpose of the meeting was to vote on amendments to a bill that reforms minimum sentences for non-violent crimes. A little more than half of the committee members were present, while some, like New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, stopped in to give a brief speech and then leave.
Leahy, the chairman of the committee, was presiding. To his right sat Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, who has served with Leahy for decades and is one of the few senators who are older than Vermont’s senior senator.
Wittingly or not, Grassley played the straight man to Leahy’s wry wit, which drew laughter from the hundred or so staffers and reporters that lined the walls of the committee room. In one such moment, Leahy consoled his colleague after he and the other Democrats voted down several of Grassley’s amendments.
“You’re my buddy and every so often we agree,” Leahy said. “I think we did once in 1986.”
Aware that he held a captive audience, Leahy ribbed his colleagues throughout the rest of the hearing. Over the course of the day, it became clear they aren’t afraid to joke with him, too.
Sen. Bill Nelson at one point came across Leahy, a press secretary, Leahy’s two-man security detail and a reporter squeezed into the subway from the Dirksen Building to the Capitol.
“You can tell how important a senator is based on the number of people he’s traveling with,” joked the affable Florida Democrat, in an accent that left no mistaking where he was from. “Me, I’m just by myself.”