(NECN: Jack Thurston - Montpelier, Vt.) - Now that he is the country's longest-serving United States senator from the Senate's majority party, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has a new entourage made up of officers from the U.S. Capitol Police.
"They're the nicest and most professional people you'll ever meet," Leahy said this week. "And I don't say that just because they're standing around here with guns.”
The added security came when Leahy was sworn in last month as the Senate President Pro Tem, following the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. That position puts the Vermont Democrat third in line for the presidency, should President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner somehow all be unable to serve.
"If I ever prayed for the president's health and wellbeing before, I definitely do now," Leahy said.
Leahy aides told NECN that the Capitol Police have an eye on the 72-year-old 24/7. NECN saw several men driving Leahy where he was going this week and scouting out rooms where he was appearing. One officer politely refused to answer NECN's questions, instead staying focused on Leahy at all times.
This is not the first time Leahy has had routine protection from the Capitol Police. In late 2001, a letter addressed to Leahy was found to contain deadly anthrax spores. Security trailed Leahy into 2003, when he decided he no longer needed the police every day.
"He had a choice then," said political analyst Chris Graff, who covered Leahy for several decades when he was a journalist. "He doesn't have a choice now. He's in the line for presidential succession and it's a whole new world for him."
Graff said Vermonters should expect Leahy will have the patrols as long as he's in office and as long as the Democrats keep their power in the Senate.
"Governors have heavy protection," Graff said. "But usually members of Congress, no matter who they are, don't have protection. The exceptions are the Speaker of the House, the majority leader and the minority leader, and in the Senate, the majority and minority leaders, and the President Pro Tem. You're no longer just a senator; you are third in line to the presidency."
Leahy has long said politicians need to be accessible to their constituents, not in some security cocoon. But it appeared to NECN that the new security patrols did not stand in the way of well-meaning Vermonters who wanted to talk to their senior senator at his appearances in his home state this week.