No 20-Year Club in the 116th Congress

Prior to Jeff Sessions’ departure in 2017, it had been 30+ years since the last time the chamber did not contain at least one state delegation whose members had served two decades together

While Democrats are playing defense in several U.S. Senate races across the country this cycle, Washington’s Maria Cantwell is one incumbent who is expected to coast to a double-digit victory in her race against GOP nominee Susan Hutchison.

Cantwell is seeking her fourth term and, along with Patty Murray, is one-half of the current longest-serving state delegation in the chamber.

Cantwell and Murray have served alongside one another for 17 years, 9 months, 14 days through Tuesday.

Only 30 pairs of senators from the same state have served together for 20 or more years in the history of the legislative body – a feat the Washington senators would achieve at the beginning of the 117th Congress in January 2021.

No other state delegations are close to reaching the 20-year mark.

Four states have delegations that have served together for 11+ years:

  • Rhode Island: Democrats Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse (11 years, 9 months, 14 days)
  • Tennessee: Republicans Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker (11 years, 9 months, 14 days)
  • Vermont: Democrat Patrick Leahy and independent Bernie Sanders (11 years, 9 months, 14 days)
  • Wyoming: Republicans Mike Enzi and John Barrasso (11 years, 3 months, 22 days)

Whitehouse, Sanders, and Barrasso are running for reelection this year while Corker is retiring.

Three other state delegations will hit double-digits next year:

  • Idaho: Republicans Mike Crapo and Jim Risch (9 years, 9 months, 14 days)
  • Oregon: Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (9 years, 9 months, 14 days)
  • New York: Democrats Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (9 years, 8 months, 21 days)

When Jeff Sessions resigned to become attorney general in February 2017, it ended the chamber’s 27th longest streak – Sessions had served with fellow Alabama Republican Richard Shelby for 20 years, 1 month, 6 days.

It also marked the first time in more than 30 years that the U.S. Senate did not have at least one state delegation whose members had served side-by-side for at least 20 years.

Prior to Sessions’ departure, it had been 31 years since at least one state delegation boasted two decades of service together following the retirement of West Virginia Democrat Jennings Randolph in 1984. [Randolph and Robert Byrd are #10 on the all-time list at 26 years].

From 1986 through 2017, the senate was comprised of the following delegations with two decades or more of continuous service:

  • 1986: South Carolina Republican Strom Thurmond and Democrat Fritz Hollings
  • 1987: Thurmond/Hollings
  • 1988: Thurmond/Hollings
  • 1989: Thurmond/Hollings; Oregon Republicans Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood
  • 1990: Thurmond/Hollings; Hatfield/Packwood
  • 1991: Thurmond/Hollings; Hatfield/Packwood
  • 1992: Thurmond/Hollings; Hatfield/Packwood
  • 1993: Thurmond/Hollings; Hatfield/Packwood; Delaware Republican Bill Roth and Democrat Joe Biden
  • 1994: Thurmond/Hollings; Hatfield/Packwood; Roth/Biden
  • 1995: Thurmond/Hollings; Hatfield/Packwood (through September); Roth/Biden
  • 1996: Thurmond/Hollings; Roth/Biden; Rhode Island Democrats Claiborne Pell and John Chafee (for a few days only)
  • 1997: Thurmond/Hollings; Roth/Biden
  • 1998: Thurmond/Hollings; Roth/Biden
  • 1999: Thurmond/Hollings; Roth/Biden
  • 2000: Thurmond/Hollings; Roth/Biden
  • 2001: Thurmond/Hollings; Alaska Republicans Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski
  • 2002: Thurmond/Hollings; Stevens/Murkowski
  • 2003: New Mexico Republican Pete Domenici and Democrat Jeff Bingaman
  • 2004: Domenici/Bingaman
  • 2005: Domenici/Bingaman; Massachusetts Democrats Ted Kennedy and John Kerry; West Virginia Democrats Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller; Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley and Democrat Tom Harkin
  • 2006: Domenici/Bingaman; Kennedy/Kerry; Byrd/Rockefeller; Grassley/Harkin
  • 2007: Domenici/Bingaman; Kennedy/Kerry; Byrd/Rockefeller; Grassley/Harkin
  • 2008: Domenici/Bingaman; Kennedy/Kerry; Byrd/Rockefeller; Grassley/Harkin
  • 2009: Kennedy/Kerry (until August); Byrd/Rockefeller; Grassley/Harkin; Connecticut Democrats Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman
  • 2010: Byrd/Rockefeller (until June); Grassley/Harkin; Dodd/Lieberman; Hawaii Democrats Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka
  • 2011: Grassley/Harkin; Inouye/Akaka
  • 2012: Grassley/Harkin; Inouye/Akaka
  • 2013: Grassley/Harkin; California Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer
  • 2014: Grassley/Harkin; Feinstein/Boxer
  • 2015: Feinstein/Boxer
  • 2016: Feinstein/Boxer
  • 2017: Alabama Republicans Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions (until February)

Prior to 1985, the last time the senate had been without a delegation serving two decades together was during an eight-year stretch from 1957-1964 following the retirement of Georgia Democrat Walter George in 1956. [George and Richard Russell are #18 on the all-time list at 23 years, 11 months, 21 days].

  • 1965: Arkansas Democrats John McClellan and J. William Fulbright
  • 1966: McClellan/Fulbright; Alabama Democrats J. Lister Hill and John Sparkman
  • 1967: McClellan/Fulbright; Hill/Sparkman; Mississippi Democrats James Eastland and John Stennis
  • 1968: McClellan/Fulbright; Hill/Sparkman; Eastland/Stennis; Louisiana Democrats Allen Ellender and Russell Long
  • 1969: McClellan/Fulbright; Eastland/Stennis; Ellender/Long
  • 1970: McClellan/Fulbright; Eastland/Stennis; Ellender/Long
  • 1971: McClellan/Fulbright; Eastland/Stennis; Ellender/Long
  • 1972: McClellan/Fulbright; Eastland/Stennis; Ellender/Long (until July)
  • 1973: McClellan/Fulbright; Eastland/Stennis; Washington Democrats Warren Magnuson and Scoop Jackson
  • 1974: McClellan/Fulbright; Eastland/Stennis; Magnuson/Jackson
  • 1975: Eastland/Stennis; Magnuson/Jackson; Nebraska Republicans Roman Hruska and Carl Curtis
  • 1976: Eastland/Stennis; Magnuson/Jackson; Hruska/Curtis
  • 1977: Eastland/Stennis; Magnuson/Jackson
  • 1978: Eastland/Stennis; Magnuson/Jackson
  • 1979: Magnuson/Jackson; West Virginia Democrats Jennings Randolph and Robert Byrd
  • 1980: Magnuson/Jackson; Randolph/Byrd; North Dakota Republican Milton Young and Democrat Quentin Burdick
  • 1981: Randolph/Byrd
  • 1982: Randolph/Byrd
  • 1983: Randolph/Byrd
  • 1984: Randolph/Byrd

No state delegation members served two decades together prior to 1887 when Vermont Republicans George Edmunds and Justin Morrill were the first to hit that milestone.

Since then the chamber has also lacked such seasoned delegations during four other periods: 1891-1898, 1905-1914, 1917-1922, and 1931-1952.

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3 Comments on "No 20-Year Club in the 116th Congress"

  1. 1. HI/2012: D K Inouye passed on on the 17th of December, presumably after the conclusion of the lame duck session of the 112th Congress. (Question) Is the IN-BETWEEN period (i.e. post-lameduck but pre-January 3, or other designated date) still considered part of the just-ended congress, or part of neither?
    2. RI/1996: If John Orlando Pastore (D senator from 19-12-1950 to 28-12-1976) retained his seat until early January of ’77, then the Pell and Chafee pair would not have qualified for this (exclusive) list.

  2. I think the subtitle (“Prior to Jeff Sessions’ departure in 2017, it had been 30+ years since the last time the chamber contained at least one state delegation whose members had served two decades together”) is missing a negative, e.g., “… the last time the chamber *did not* contain at least one state delegation …”.

    Interesting analysis! Of course, far from a frivolous matter, these long tenures in the Senate would often give small states such as WV, SC, IA, DE, and HI a lot more leverage (and therefore more appropriations, etc.).

    I calculated what the Senate would look like if the seniority system were taken to the extreme and each senator were given a number of votes equal to the number of Senate elections they’ve won to date. (Such a system, I’d imagine, would strongly incentivize parties and voters to keep turnover rate as low as possible.) Democrats (including independents caucusing with Democrats) would have 105 votes to Republicans’ 120 votes. These figures include zero votes each for newly-appointed Sens. Tina Smith (D-MN) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), as well as three votes for newly-appointed Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who previously served from 1995 to 2013. Through October 17, Senate Democrats (including independents) have collectively served 191,517 days to Senate Republicans’ 211,345 days (including Kyl’s previous 6,575 days).

    • That’s an interesting seniority scoring system! I imagine DEMs had a big advantage using that model after the elections of 2006/2008 when Byrd, Kennedy, and Inouye were still alive (and Boxer/Harkin/Rockefeller/Baucus/Akaka etc. were all still serving in the chamber).

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