Larry Lee Pressler (born March 29, 1942) is a U.S. politician from South Dakota. He served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1975–79) and three terms in the U.S. Senate (1979–97), losing re-election to Tim Johnson (1996). He was the first Vietnam veteran to be elected to the Senate.
Since leaving the Senate, Pressler has served as a lawyer, business advisor, and lecturer and has remained active in politics and government. He has either considered running, or briefly run, for office several times. In December 2013, Pressler announced that he would run as an independent in the 2014 mid-term elections for the U.S. Senate seat he lost to Johnson, who was retiring. Pressler lost the election to Mike Rounds.
For the 2016 presidential election, Pressler endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Pressler was born in Humboldt, South Dakota, the son of Loretta Genevieve (Claussen) and Antone Lewis Pressler. He was raised on his family's farm. He is a graduate of the University of South Dakota, Oxford University (attending St. Edmund Hall as a Rhodes Scholar), the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and Harvard Law School.
Early career and military service
He was briefly a lawyer and then served in the Vietnam War in the United States Army (1966–68). After returning from Vietnam, he served for several years in the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer.
Political career, 1975–1997
Pressler served in the House of Representatives from 1975 to 1979.
In 1978, he was elected to the United States Senate, succeeding retiring Democratic incumbent James Abourezk.
He served in the Senate from 1979 to 1997 and was Chairman of the Commerce Committee (1995–97). While in the Senate, he also served on the Science and Transportation Committee, Foreign Relations Committee and European and Asian Subcommittees. Pressler ran for a fourth term in 1996 but lost by two points to Democratic Congressman Tim Johnson.
He briefly sought the Republican Presidential nomination in 1980, campaigning on Vietnam veterans' issues.
Pressler authored and won Congressional and Presidential approval of a sweeping reform of telecommunications legislations through the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Pressler is noted for being possibly the only one of the nine known members of Congress approached to flatly refuse to take a bribe from undercover FBI agents and then to report the bribe attempt to the FBI during the Abscam investigations (1980). John Murtha also declined the bribe, but expressed interest in later opportunities. The Washington Post reported in a front page story on Sunday, February 4, the following:
Thanks to the FBI's undercover "sting" operation, there now exists incontrovertible evidence that one senator would not be bought. Preserved among the videotape footage that may be used as bribery evidence against a number of members of Congress, there is a special moment in which Sen. Larry Pressler (R-SD) tells the undercover agents, in effect, to take their sting and stick it. Pressler, according to law enforcement sources was the one approached member of Congress who flatly refused to consider financial favors in exchange for legislative favors, as suggested by undercover agents posing as Arabs. At the time he said he was not aware that he was doing anything quite so heroic.
In an over-all review of the Abscam cases, Judge J. Pratt had the highest praise for Senator Pressler. "Pressler, particularly, acted as citizens have a right to expect their elected representatives to act. He showed a clear awareness of the line between proper and improper conduct, and despite his confessed need for campaign money, and despite the additional attractiveness to him of the payment offered, he nevertheless refused to cross into impropriety."
Pakistan and the Pressler Amendment
Pressler was also the sponsor of the "Pressler Amendment", which banned most economic and military assistance to Pakistan unless the President certified on an annual basis that "Pakistan does not possess a nuclear explosive device and that the proposed United States assistance program will reduce significantly the risk that Pakistan will possess a nuclear explosive device."
After his defeat, Pressler passed the New York bar and worked again as a lawyer. Pressler subsequently became senior partner of the law firm O'Connor and Hannan, where he served for six years, and then formed his own law firm, The Pressler Group. Pressler is a member of the New York Bar, the Washington DC Bar, and the Supreme Court Bar.
He has also lectured at more than twenty universities in China, India and the U.S., and has been granted two lifetime Fulbright teaching awards.
In 2000, he was a member of Republican Presidential Candidate George W. Bush's Information Technology Steering Committee, and also served on the Bush Presidential Transition Team in 2001.
Pressler attempted a political comeback in 2002 by running for South Dakota's open at-large House seat but he essentially discontinued his campaign when Republican Governor Bill Janklow unexpectedly entered the race.
Pressler was appointed an official observer of Ukraine's national election in December 2004.
On November 10, 2009, President Obama named Pressler to the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad. He also serves on the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission.
In October 2012, based on veterans' issues, Pressler endorsed Obama for a second term with an article in The Huffington Post and on national television networks. Pressler campaigned in a bipartisan team for Obama in the fall of 2012, speaking on behalf of the Obama ticket to certain veteran's groups in Virginia.
He taught as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Sciences Po University, Paris, France, and Reims, France, in the fall of 2012. He chiefly teaches international relations to graduate students.
In 2013, Pressler was a signatory to an amicus curiae brief submitted to the Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage during the Hollingsworth v. Perry case.
Pressler endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for President in 2008 and 2012. He endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.
2014 U.S. Senate election
The Native American Times reported in November 2013 that Pressler, at the age of 71, was weighing an independent comeback bid for the seat vacated by retiring Democratic Senator Tim Johnson in the 2014 election. After being approached by a group of citizens asking him to run, Pressler assessed his chances of victory by saying, "I think it's possible but unlikely." At the conclusion of an exploratory tour of South Dakota's 66 counties in late 2013, however, Pressler announced his candidacy and stated confidently, "I intend to win." Pressler faced Republican former Governor Mike Rounds, Democratic congressional aide Rick Weiland, and independent conservative state legislator Gordon Howie in a four-way race.
Shortly before announcing his intention to run for office, Pressler explained his becoming an independent: "I don't think I've moved, I think the party has moved. I feel like a man without a party.... My intent is not to hurt anyone." During his unsuccessful campaign, Pressler did not commit to caucusing with either party in the Senate if elected. He stated that he would only serve for one term, and pledged that he would "never raise a dollar" in campaign funds while in office. Pressler has said that he views both parties as being "too entrenched in their respective ideologies at the expense of commonsense solutions."
Pressler supported raising taxes on the rich, possibly gradually increasing the retirement age for Social Security. He said that his top priority was cutting the national deficit. He also supported "much, much stronger" background checks for gun sales for mentally challenged persons. According to the Argus Leader, Pressler was "adamantly opposed to military adventurism, supports expanding background checks on gun sales, favors restricting corporate donations to political campaigns and has called for a museum honoring Native Americans wiped out by white expansion." He had also voted for Barack Obama for President, citing "fiscally conservative reasons". Pressler stated his support for same-sex marriage and filed an Amicus Curiae brief to the Supreme Court in regard to Hollingsworth v. Perry.
During the 2014 campaign, Pressler was endorsed by South Dakota’s two largest newspapers, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and the Rapid City Journal, as well as The Daily Republic in Mitchell. The race also drew some national attention. The Wall Street Journal reported, “Republicans had been expected to easily win the open Senate seat in South Dakota this year, but the race has tightened recently. Earlier this month, Democrats began sending cash to the race after concluding the unusual, four-way race was winnable.” The New York Times said, “A race that most had thought was safely Republican is suddenly the focus of national attention, thanks to the surprisingly successful candidacy of former Senator Larry Pressler, a Republican who is running as an independent.”
Pressler ultimately lost the 2014 Senate election to Governor Rounds.
Achievements and honors
Pressler was an Adjunct Professor of Telecommunication/Internet Policy at Baruch College (City University of New York). He was awarded a Fulbright Senior Lectureship at the University of Bologna, Italy, for spring semester 2009 and lectured on international relations from January to June 2009.
Pressler was awarded the following medals and citations for his two tours of duty as a U.S. Army Lieutenant (1967–68) in Vietnam: (which are included on his DD Form 214) Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation with one Oak Leaf Cluster, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with four Bronze Service Stars, Vietnam Campaign Ribbon with Device, Overseas Service Bars, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation Badge.
Pressler is a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, the Phi Beta Kappa national honor society, the Century Association and the Harvard Club of New York, the Cosmos Club and the Metropolitan Club of Washington, D.C., the Vietnam Veterans Association, and the American Rhodes Scholars Association.
He has been a longtime trustee of the South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation in Huron, South Dakota, an educational and charitable foundation.
In 2010 Pressler was appointed to the board of the Jericho Project's Veterans Advisory Council which assists homeless veterans in the Bronx.
Pressler has also been appointed to the board of directors for the Baruch School of Public Affairs in New York City.
He is a visiting professor and Senior Fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the Thomas Hawkins Johnson Visiting Scholar at the United States Military Academy, where he lectures on international relations and has advised cadets seeking Rhodes scholarships and other graduate fellowships.
Since leaving Congress, Pressler has served as a senior adviser to Salomon Smith Barney, Monticello Capital, Blackhorse Asset Management and Leopard Capital's Leopard Sri Lanka Fund.
In April 2015 Pressler was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His confirmation into the Church was performed by his fellow Rhodes Scholar Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School and Harry Reid.
|Republican gain from Democratic|
|Republican||Larry Pressler (inc.)||157,954||48.67%|
|Democratic gain from Republican||Swing|
|Republican||Larry Pressler (inc.)||135,682||52.39%|
|Independent||Dean L. Sinclair||6,567||2.53%|
|Republican||Larry Pressler (inc.)||235,176||74.49%|
|Democratic||George V. Cunningham||80,537||25.50%|
|Republican gain from Democratic||Swing|