Larry Pressler

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Larry Pressler
Larry Pressler.jpg
United States Senator
from South Dakota
In office
January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1997
Preceded by James Abourezk
Succeeded by Tim Johnson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Dakota's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1975 – January 3, 1979
Preceded by Frank Denholm
Succeeded by Tom Daschle
Personal details
Born Larry Lee Pressler
(1942-03-29) March 29, 1942 (age 72)
Humboldt, South Dakota, U.S.
Political party Republican (before 2013)
Independent (2013–present)
Spouse(s) Harriet Pressler
Alma mater University of South Dakota
St Edmund Hall, Oxford
Harvard University
Religion Christianity

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 is retiring.[1]

Early life[edit]

Pressler was born in Humboldt, South Dakota, the son of Antone Lewis Pressler and Loretta Genevieve Claussen.[2] 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[edit]

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[edit]

Pressler was elected to the House of Representatives (1975-79). He was a Senator from South Dakota (1979-97) and was Chairman of the Commerce Committee (1995-97).[3] While in the Senate, he also served on the Science and Transportation Committee, Foreign Relations Committee and European and Asian Subcommittees.

He briefly sought the Republican Presidential nomination in 1980.

Pressler authored and won Congressional and Presidential approval of a sweeping reform of telecommunications legislations through the Telecommunications Act of 1996.[4]

Abscam investigation[edit]

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.[5]

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."[6]

Pakistan and the Pressler Amendment[edit]

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[7] “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.”[8]

Post-Senate career[edit]

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.[9]

Pressler has remained active in the political arena. 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.[10]

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.[11]

Pressler endorsed Barack Obama for President in 2008 and 2012.[12]

On November 10, 2009, President Obama named Pressler to the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad.[13] He also serves on the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

He taught as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Sciences Po University, Paris, France, and Reims, France, in the Fall of 2012.[17] He chiefly teaches international relations to graduate students.

The Native American Times reported in November 2013 that Pressler, at the age of 71, was weighing a comeback bid for the seat held by retiring Democratic Senator Tim Johnson in the 2014 election. According to the report, Pressler indicated he would run as an independent, bypassing potentially competitive primaries with former Governor Mike Rounds and state legislator Larry Rhoden[18] on the Republican side and former congressional staffer Rick Weiland[19] on the Democratic side.[20]

In a National Journal article entitled "Former Republican Senator Making his Comeback as an Independent," Pressler said that he "sees a political system in which both parties are too entrenched in their respective ideologies at the expense of commonsense solutions. And he thinks voters see things the same way." If elected, Pressler supports raising taxes, gradually increasing the retirement age for Social Security and decreasing the growth of those payouts. He also supports "much, much stronger" background checks for gun sales. 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." [21]

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." [22]

In a Politico article of November 14, 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." [23]

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.[24]

Achievements and honors[edit]

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.[25]

In 2010 Pressler was appointed to the board of the Jericho Project’s Veterans Advisory Council which assists homeless veterans in the Bronx.[26]

Pressler has also been appointed to the board of directors for the Baruch School of Public Affairs in New York City.[27]

He is a visiting professor and Senior Fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles.[28] 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[29] and Leopard Capital's Leopard Sri Lanka Fund.

Election history[edit]

United States Senate election in South Dakota, 1996[30]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Tim Johnson 166,533 51.32%
Republican Larry Pressler (inc.) 157,954 48.67%
Turnout 324,487
Democratic gain from Republican Swing

United States Senate election in South Dakota, 1990[31]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Larry Pressler (inc.) 135,682 52.39%
Democratic Ted Muenster 116,727 45.07%
Independent Dean L. Sinclair 6,567 2.53%
Turnout 258,976
Republican hold Swing

United States Senate election in South Dakota, 1984[32]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Larry Pressler (inc.) 235,176 74.49%
Democratic George V. Cunningham 80,537 25.50%
Turnout 315,713
Republican hold Swing

United States Senate election in South Dakota, 1978[33]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Larry Pressler 170,832 66.83%
Democratic Don Barnett 84,767 33.16%
Turnout 255,599
Republican gain from Democratic Swing


  1. ^ Montgomery, David (December 27, 2013). "Independent voice needed, Larry Pressler says". Argus Leader. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Current Biography Yearbook - Google Books
  3. ^ PRESSLER, Larry Lee - Biographical Information
  4. ^ FCC - Telecommunications Act of 1996
  5. ^ "Sen. Pressler: He Spurned the 'Arabs'". February 4, 1980. 
  6. ^ "Excerpts from Ruling by Federal Judge Upholding the ABSCAM Convictions". The New York Times. p. 8. 
  7. ^ Larry Pressler
  8. ^ The Pressler Amendment and Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons Program (Senate - July 31, 1992)
  9. ^ Fulbright U.S. Scholar Directory
  10. ^ Pressler, Senator Larry: Biography 2008
  11. ^ A Report on Ukraine’s Presidential Election By The Delegation of Former Members of the U.S. Congress 18 – 23 November 2004 The Hon. Dennis Hertel (D-MI) The Hon. Daniel Mica (D-FL) The Hon. Larry Pressler (R-SD) The Hon. John J. Rhodes (R-AZ) The Hon. Bob Schaffer (R-CO) The Hon. Joseph Tydings (D-MD), retrieved 2013-02-25 
  12. ^ Montgomery, David (December 27, 2013). "Independent voice needed, Larry Pressler says". Argus Leader. Retrieved February 21, 2014. 
  13. ^ President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 11/10/09 | The White House
  14. ^ Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission
  15. ^ Pressler, Larry (October 8, 2012). "Republican Senator, Vietnam Veteran Endorses President Obama". Huffington Post. Retrieved Dec 13, 2012. 
  16. ^ Williams, Megan (November 3, 2012). "Ex-senator, Navy chief stump area for Obama". Military News. Retrieved Dec 18, 2012. 
  17. ^ Sciences Po Course List: The 2012 US Elections
  18. ^ "Politically Speaking: Rhoden enters S.D. Senate race, setting GOP primary with Mike Rounds". Sioux City Journal. July 10, 2013. Retrieved November 9, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin Decides Not To Run For U.S. Senate". KSOO-AM. May 13, 2013. Retrieved November 9, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Former SD senator explores run as Independent for US office". Native American Times. November 7, 2013. Retrieved November 9, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Former Republican Senator Making his Comeback as an Independent". National Journal. November 13, 2013. Retrieved December 13, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Independent voice needed, Larry Pressler says". Argus Leader. December 27, 2013. Retrieved May 5, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Larry Pressler may run again in South Dakota - as an independent". Politico. November 14, 2013. Retrieved December 13, 2013. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ South Dakota Famers Union - Board of Trustees
  26. ^ Pressler, Senator Larry: Biography 2008
  27. ^ Advisory Board - School of Public Affairs - Baruch College
  28. ^ "Larry Pressler". UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research. Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  29. ^ "Blackhorse Asset Management Pte Ltd Celebrates 3rd year in Vietnam, highlights recent developments and future expansion plans". VATC — Vietnamese American Vocational Training College. 2009-11-11. Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Frank Denholm
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Dakota's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Tom Daschle
Party political offices
Preceded by
Robert Hirsch
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from South Dakota
(Class 2)

1978, 1984, 1990, 1996
Succeeded by
John Thune
United States Senate
Preceded by
James Abourezk
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from South Dakota
Served alongside: George McGovern, James Abdnor, Tom Daschle
Succeeded by
Tim Johnson
Preceded by
Ernest Hollings
Chairperson of the Senate Commerce Committee
Succeeded by
John McCain