Sheldon Whitehouse

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Sheldon Whitehouse
Sheldon Whitehouse, official portrait, 116th congress.jpg
United States Senator
from Rhode Island
Assumed office
January 3, 2007
Servingwith Jack Reed
Preceded by Lincoln Chafee
71st Attorney General of Rhode Island
In office
January 2, 1999 January 7, 2003
Governor Lincoln Almond
Preceded by Jeffrey B. Pine
Succeeded by Patrick Lynch
United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island
In office
January 20, 1993 June 8, 1998
President Bill Clinton
Preceded byLincoln Almond
Succeeded by Margaret Curran
Director of the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation
In office
Governor Bruce Sundlun
Preceded byMaurice C. Paradis [1]
Succeeded byAlfonso E. Mastrostefano [2]
Personal details
Born (1955-10-20) October 20, 1955 (age 65)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Sandra Thornton
(m. 1986)
Parents Charles S. Whitehouse
Mary Rand
Education Yale University (BA)
University of Virginia (JD)
Signature Sheldon Whitehouse Signature.svg
Website Senate website

Sheldon Whitehouse (born October 20, 1955) is an American lawyer and politician serving as the junior United States Senator from Rhode Island since 2007. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as a United States Attorney from 1993 to 1998 and the 71st Attorney General of Rhode Island from 1999 to 2003.


Early life and education

Whitehouse was born on October 20, 1955, in New York City, New York, [3] the son of Mary Celine (née Rand) and career diplomat Charles Sheldon Whitehouse, and grandson of diplomat Sheldon Whitehouse (1883–1965). Among his great-great-grandfathers were Episcopalian bishop Henry John Whitehouse and railroad magnate Charles Crocker, who was among the founders of the Central Pacific Railroad. Whitehouse graduated from St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, and from Yale College in 1978. He received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Virginia School of Law [3] in 1982.

Early career

Whitehouse worked as a clerk for Judge Richard Neely of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia from 1982 to 1983. He also worked in the Rhode Island Attorney General's office as a special assistant attorney general from 1985 to 1990, chief of the Regulatory Unit (which oversaw utilities) from 1988 to 1990, and as an assistant attorney general from 1989 to 1990. [4]

Whitehouse worked as Rhode Island Governor Bruce Sundlun's Executive Counsel beginning in 1991, and was later tapped to serve as Director of Policy. He oversaw the state's response to the Rhode Island banking crisis [5] that took place soon after Sundlun took office. In 1992 Sundlun appointed Whitehouse the state's Director of Business Regulation, where he oversaw a drastic reform in the state's workers' compensation insurance system. [4]

Early political career

U.S. Attorney

President Bill Clinton appointed Whitehouse United States Attorney for Rhode Island in 1994. Whitehouse held the position for four years. With the 1996 extortion conviction of mobster Gerard Ouimette, he was the first prosecutor to convict a member of organized crime under Clinton's "three strikes law". [4] Whitehouse also initiated the investigation into municipal corruption in Rhode Island that led to Operation Plunder Dome, in which Mayor of Providence Vincent "Buddy" Cianci was eventually convicted on conspiracy charges. [6] As U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island, Whitehouse oversaw an increase in environmental protection efforts, including an investigation into a Narragansett Bay oil spill that yielded the largest fine in state history.[ citation needed ]

State Attorney General

In 1998, Whitehouse was elected Rhode Island Attorney General. He initiated a lawsuit against the lead paint industry that ended in a mistrial; the state later won a second lawsuit against former lead paint manufacturers Sherwin-Williams, Millennium Holdings, and NL Industries that found them responsible for creating a public nuisance. [7] This decision, however, was unanimously overturned by the Rhode Island Supreme Court on July 1, 2008. The Court found that under Rhode Island law it is the responsibility of property owners to abate and mitigate lead hazards.[ citation needed ]

Whitehouse also founded the Rhode Island Quality Institute, "an organization dedicated to improving health care quality in the State of Rhode Island". He authorized the first Rhode Island State Police wiretap to investigate public corruption. [8]

When black Providence police officer Cornel Young Jr. was shot and killed by two fellow officers while he was off-duty in January 2000, [9] Whitehouse was criticized for not appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate the shooting. [10] Later that year, Whitehouse was criticized when 15-year-old Jennifer Rivera, a witness in a murder case, was shot by a relative of the man she was to testify against later that year. [11] After Rivera's shooting, Whitehouse strengthened the state's witness protection program.[ citation needed ]

2002 gubernatorial election

Whitehouse was narrowly defeated in the Democratic primary by former State Senator Myrth York, who was unsuccessful in the general election against Republican Donald Carcieri.

U.S. Senate

Whitehouse speaking in 2008 Sheldon Whitehouse Senator from Rhode Island.jpg
Whitehouse speaking in 2008



In 2006, Whitehouse ran for the seat occupied by Senator Lincoln Chafee, a Republican seeking a second full term. After winning the Democratic primary by a large margin, Whitehouse went on to defeat Chafee with 53 percent of the vote. [12]


On November 6, 2012, Whitehouse won reelection to a second term in office, easily defeating Republican challenger Barry Hinckley, "both in state results and in local towns. Whitehouse won by 30 points, with 64.9 percent of the vote in Rhode Island". [13]


On November 6, 2018, Whitehouse was reelected to a third term, defeating Republican Robert Flanders by 23 points. [14]


In 2007, the National Journal ranked Whitehouse the second-most liberal senator. [15]

Whitehouse voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Budget Control Act. He voted against Cut, Cap and Balance and the debt ceiling increase. Earlier in his first term, he voted for the Stimulus package and the TARP. He voted against cap and trade, but sponsored Offshoring Prevention and supported the Global Warming Reduction Act. [16] [17]

Whitehouse supports stem cell research, abortion rights, LGBT rights, and affirmative action.[ citation needed ] He has publicly supported a reintroduction of the Equal Rights Amendment. Whitehouse opposed intervention in Iraq.

He voted to confirm Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

Whitehouse supports a more progressive tax system and strongly opposed the Bush tax cuts and proposals to repeal the estate tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax. He is in favor of gun control and has spoken out against the Patriot Act. Whitehouse supported introducing a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, saying that the United States must use caution in the future and avoid engaging in military action in Iran. [17]

Despite a generally pro-rehabilitation stance on crime, Whitehouse supports federal use of the death penalty, but opposes its use at the state level in Rhode Island. [18] He also opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement and other similar proposals, styling himself as a supporter of fair trade and opposing the use of presidential authority to "fast-track" normalized trade relations. [18]

In the spring of 2007, Whitehouse joined other senators in calling for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's resignation. [19] After Gonzales's first appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee related to the controversy, Whitehouse told NPR, "[Gonzales] had a hard sell to make to me, and he didn't make it." [20] He continued to question Gonzales's service in the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy. [21]

Whitehouse has faced some criticism for alleged insider trading, avoiding big losses by trading stocks after top federal officials warned congressional leaders of "the coming economic cataclysm" in September 2008. [22]

PolitiFact determined that Whitehouse falsely claimed Paul Ryan's 2012 budget blueprint "gets rid of Medicare in 10 years." Whitehouse claimed to have meant that Ryan's plan would have ended Medicare "as we know it", turning it into a voucher program. [23]

Whitehouse during the Munich Security Conference 2018 Sheldon Whitehouse MSC 2018 (cropped).jpg
Whitehouse during the Munich Security Conference 2018

In a 2018 interview with the Providence Journal , Whitehouse expressed opposition to D.C. statehood. He was dismissive of efforts to give District residents representation in Congress, suggesting they should be satisfied with the amount of federal activity nearby. [24] [25] But in July 2020, he cosponsored a Senate bill to grant DC statehood. [26]

Whitehouse supported a vote that would limit continuing US support for the War in Yemen. Initially, Whitehouse was one of the two Democratic holdouts in the Senate, but an activist effort, including mobilizing fans of the Rhode Island band Downtown Boys, contributed to changing his position. [27] [28]

Committee assignments

Whitehouse is a member of the following committees: [29] [30] [31]

Caucus memberships

Political positions

Health care

During the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Whitehouse cautioned that conservative opposition to the bill was moving toward historical incidences of mob violence, saying, "Too many colleagues are embarked on a desperate, no-holds-barred mission of propaganda, obstruction and fear...cautions us of the excesses to which these malignant, vindictive passions can ultimately lead. Tumbrils have rolled through taunting crowds. Broken glass has sparkled in darkened streets. Strange fruit has hung from southern trees". [33]

In December 2009, Whitehouse said "birthers", "fanatics", and "people running around in right-wing militia and Aryan support groups" oppose Obamacare. [34]

Environmental issues

In November 2011, ThinkProgress reported Whitehouse's introduction of a bill that would require federal natural resource agencies to be concerned with the long-term effects of climate change, and to encourage the preparation of natural resource adaptation plans by the states. The Safeguarding America's Future and Environment Act (SAFE) Act also "would create a science advisory board to ensure that the planning uses the best available science". [35]

In reference to the proposed action on mandatory emissions curbs, Whitehouse told The Hill that "I am not hearing anybody on our side, even the people who are more economically concerned about the climate legislation who come from coal states, that sort of thing, saying, 'What are we going to say about this, is this a problem?'" [36]

Whitehouse dismissed the Climatic Research Unit conspiracy theory: "Climategate should properly be known as Climategate-gate because it was the scandal that was phony." [37]

The Environmental Defense Fund praised him for working to protect the Gulf Coast wetlands. [38]

Whitehouse has said that development of alternate energy sources, including solar power, will eliminate U.S. dependence on foreign oil. He has cited the installation of new solar panels on three new bank branches in Rhode Island, saying that the projects "created jobs, they put people to work, they lowered the cost for these banks of their electrical energy, and they get us off foreign oil and away, step by step, from these foreign entanglements that we have to get into to defend our oil supply". In regard to these comments, PolitiFact investigated the economics of renewable energy and determined that solar and wind investments would not have a large effect on oil consumption, calling Whitehouse's comments "mostly false" due to "this misimpression—and because of the other inaccuracies in Whitehouse's speech". [39]

In a May 29, 2015, Washington Post editorial, Whitehouse advocated prosecution of members of the fossil fuel industry under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), in order to investigate their interest in anti-global-warming advocacy. [40]

In April 2019, Whitehouse was one of 12 senators to sign a bipartisan letter to top senators on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development advocating that the Energy Department be granted maximum funding for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), arguing that American job growth could be stimulated by investment in capturing carbon emissions and expressing disagreement with President Trump's 2020 budget request to combine the two federal programs that do carbon capture research. [41]

Since 2012, Whitehouse has spoken on the Senate floor about climate change every week the Senate has been in session, giving his 250th speech on the issue on July 24, 2019. [42]

Political spending and dark money

Whitehouse has been a staunch critic of so-called "dark money", or political spending by nonprofit organizations that are not required to disclose their donors. In 2017, upon the publication of Whitehouse's book Captured: The Corporate Infiltration of American Democracy, Whitehouse went on a book tour with Gara LaMarche, the president of Democracy Alliance. [43]

Whitehouse and fellow Democratic U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal submitted an amicus brief in Janus v. AFSCME , a U.S. Supreme Court case about labor unions' power to collect fees from non-union members. Whitehouse and Blumenthal urged the Court to uphold the right of public sector unions to collect dues from non-members to defray the costs of collective bargaining undertaken on their behalf. Whitehouse expressed concern that the conservative Bradley Foundation had funded multiple organizations involved in the case and that none of those groups had disclosed that funding.

Donors to Whitehouse include the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council. [44]

Electoral history

Rhode Island gubernatorial Democratic primary results, 2002 [45]
Democratic Myrth York 46,806 39.16
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse45,88038.39
Democratic Antonio J. Pires26,83822.45
Total votes119,524 100.00
Democratic primary results, 2006 [45]
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse 69,290 81.53
Democratic Christopher F. Young8,93910.52
Democratic Carl Sheeler6,7557.95
Total votes84,984 100.00
United States Senate election in Rhode Island, 2006 [46]
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse 206,043 53.52% +12.37%
Republican Lincoln Chafee (incumbent)178,95046.48%-10.40%
Turnout 384,993
Democratic gain from Republican Swing
Democratic primary results, 2012
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse (incumbent) 60,223 100
Total votes60,223 100
United States Senate election in Rhode Island, 2012 [47]
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse (incumbent) 271,034 64.81% +11.29%
Republican Barry Hinckley146,22234.97%-11.51%
n/a Write-ins9330.22%N/A
Total votes'418,189''100.0%'N/A
Democratic hold
Democratic primary results, Rhode Island 2018 [48]
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse (incumbent) 89,140 76.79%
Democratic Patricia J. Fontes26,94723.21%
Total votes116,087 100%
United States Senate election in Rhode Island, 2018 [14]
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse (incumbent) 231,477 61.45% -3.36%
Republican Robert Flanders144,42138.33%+3.36%
Write-in 8400.22%N/A
Total votes'376,738''100%'N/A
Democratic hold

U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Supreme Court speculation

Upon Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement in September 2014 of his intention to step down, some speculated that Whitehouse could be nominated as Holder's replacement. [49] [50]

In February 2016, after the death of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, USA Today named Whitehouse as a possible nominee to fill the vacancy. Whitehouse's service as a U.S. Attorney and as Attorney General of Rhode Island gives him both legislative experience and experience as a legal official, though not as a judge. [51] Whitehouse was ultimately not nominated.

Personal life

In 1986, Whitehouse married Sandra Thornton, a marine biologist and granddaughter of James Worth Thornton and Elena Mumm Thornton Wilson. Her step-grandfather was prominent essayist and critic Edmund Wilson. They live in Rhode Island with their two children.

Among Whitehouse's distant ancestors are William Bradford, colonial governor of Massachusetts, and theologian Archibald Alexander. [52] [53]

After meeting with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in September 2008, Whitehouse came under scrutiny due to possible insider trading, when he sold a number of positions, valued at least at $250,000, over the next six days. [54] [55] A spokesperson for Whitehouse's office explained that the senator "is not actively involved in the management" of the accounts implicated, and that he "neither directed his financial advisor to undertake any transaction during that time, nor ever took advantage of any exclusive or secret information". [56]

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Legal offices
Preceded by
Lincoln Almond
United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island
Succeeded by
Margaret Curran
Preceded by
Jeffrey B. Pine
Attorney General of Rhode Island
Succeeded by
Patrick Lynch
Party political offices
Preceded by
Robert Weygand
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Rhode Island
(Class 1)

2006, 2012, 2018
Most recent
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Lincoln Chafee
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Rhode Island
Served alongside: Jack Reed
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Amy Klobuchar
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Jon Tester