The longest-serving U.S. senator found himself under sudden attack from President Trump on Tuesday night, and hours later, Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) remained bewildered by the whole thing.
At a campaign rally in Southaven, Miss., Trump suggested that Leahy had a drinking problem while riffing about the Democratic chairmen who might be in charge come January if Republicans lose their Senate majority.
“A guy like Bernie [Sanders] would be in charge of the Budget Committee. Patrick Leahy — oh, he’s never had a drink in his life,” Trump said. “Check it out: Look under ‘Patrick Leahy slash drink.’ … ‘Patrick Leahy dash drink’ will be in charge of the Appropriations Committee.”
In a brief interview Wednesday, Leahy called the attack “bogus baloney” and said he had no idea where Trump had gotten the notion he was a drinker. “He attacks everybody except Vladimir Putin,” he said. “Everyone knows it’s bogus.”
Leahy, who is 78 and has served in the Senate since 1975, is known for a number of things on Capitol Hill — among them, his Batman movie cameos, his fondness for the Grateful Dead and his love of photography and scuba diving — but tippling is not one. Three longtime congressional aides of both parties consulted about Trump’s claims, a Democrat and two Republicans, all said that while Leahy is certainly not known as a teetotaler, he is also not known to drink to excess.
By Wednesday morning, an Internet search for “Patrick Leahy drink” turned up mainly coverage of Trump’s remarks. Notably, the attack came as Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett M. Kavanaugh, is under withering scrutiny for his high school and college drinking; Leahy is among the Senate Judiciary Committee members who questioned Kavanaugh on the subject Sept. 27.
But there is a clue where Trump might have gotten fodder for his attacks: In 2010, conservative talk show host Mark Levin aired an extended bit on a speech Leahy gave on the Senate floor at 9:41 a.m. on Jan. 28, 2010, criticizing the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision.
Amid sound effects of a beer pouring in a cup, Levin accused Leahy of slurring his speech: “I think we have a senator with beer breath. I could be wrong. I leave it to you to decide, honestly. He sounds drunk to me.”
There’s one problem with Levin’s accusation: Leahy just happens to sound like that. C-SPAN video of other Leahy speeches around that time show him speaking in a similar manner. And in a hallway interview Wednesday, he sounded much the same.
Leahy said he had no idea about any interaction where Trump might have gotten any impression about his drinking habits. The only personal encounter he could recall was at Trump’s 2017 inauguration, an episode he recalled as “very pleasant” but devoid of alcohol.
“At 10 o’clock in the morning walking through the [Capitol]?" he said. “No.”