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Sheldon Whitehouse

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Sheldon Whitehouse
Official portrait, 2019
United States Senator
from Rhode Island
Assumed office
January 3, 2007
Serving with Jack Reed
Preceded byLincoln Chafee
Chair of the Senate Budget Committee
Assumed office
January 3, 2023
Preceded byBernie Sanders
Chair of the Senate Narcotics Caucus
Assumed office
February 3, 2021
Preceded byJohn Cornyn
71st Attorney General of Rhode Island
In office
January 2, 1999 – January 7, 2003
GovernorLincoln Almond
Preceded byJeffrey B. Pine
Succeeded byPatrick Lynch
United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island
In office
January 20, 1993 – June 8, 1998
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded byLincoln Almond
Succeeded byMargaret Curran
Personal details
Born (1955-10-20) October 20, 1955 (age 68)
New York City, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Sandra Thornton
(m. 1986)
RelativesCharles S. Whitehouse (father)
Edwin Sheldon Whitehouse (grandfather)
Henry John Whitehouse (great-great-grandfather)
Charles Crocker (great-great-grandfather)
EducationYale University (BA)
University of Virginia (JD)
SignatureCursive signature in ink
WebsiteSenate 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 the United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island from 1993 to 1998 and as the 71st attorney general of Rhode Island from 1999 to 2003.

A political progressive and climate hawk, Whitehouse became chair of the United States Senate Committee on the Budget in 2023. He has given hundreds of Senate floor speeches about climate change and has made his assertion that politically conservative "dark money" groups are conducting a campaign to seize control of the American government, specifically the Supreme Court of the United States, a hallmark of his Senate tenure.[1][2][3][4]

Early life and education[edit]

Whitehouse was born on October 20, 1955, in New York City,[5] the son of Mary Celine (née Rand) and career diplomat Charles Sheldon Whitehouse, and grandson of diplomat Edwin Sheldon Whitehouse (1883–1965). Whitehouse's father served as the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand and Laos.[1] Among his great-great-grandfathers were Episcopalian bishop Henry John Whitehouse and railroad robber baron[6] Charles Crocker, who was among the founders of the Central Pacific Railroad. Whitehouse graduated from St. Paul's School, an elite boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire, and from Yale College in 1978. He received his Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1982.[1]

Early career[edit]

Whitehouse worked as a clerk for Justice 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.[citation needed]

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 that took place soon after Sundlun took office.[7] In 1992, Sundlun appointed Whitehouse the state's Director of Business Regulation, where he oversaw the state's workers' compensation insurance system.[citation needed]

Early political career[edit]

U.S. attorney[edit]

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". Ouimette was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.[8] Whitehouse 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.[citation needed]

State attorney general[edit]

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.[9] 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.[10]

When Black Providence police officer Cornel Young Jr. was shot and killed by two fellow officers while he was off duty in January 2000,[11] Whitehouse was criticized for not appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate the shooting.[12] 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.[13]

2002 gubernatorial election[edit]

Whitehouse ran for the Democratic nomination for governor of Rhode Island in 2002. He lost the primary election to former State Senator Myrth York, who was unsuccessful in the general election against Republican Donald Carcieri.[14]

U.S. Senate[edit]

Whitehouse speaking in 2008



Whitehouse launched his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by Lincoln Chafee, a Republican, on April 4, 2005.[15] By September 30, he had raised over $600,000 for his campaign, including $360,000 of his own, more than doubling Chafee's fundraising.[16] Whitehouse campaigned heavily against the Iraq War and the United States's dependence on foreign oil.[17] After winning the Democratic primary by a large margin, he defeated Chafee with 53 percent of the vote in the 2006 general election.[18] With his victory, Whitehouse became the first Democrat to win this Senate seat since John Pastore in 1970.


On November 6, 2012, Whitehouse won reelection to a second term in office, defeating Republican challenger Barry Hinckley by 30 points, with 64.9 percent of the total vote.[19]


On November 6, 2018, Whitehouse was reelected to a third term, defeating Republican Robert Flanders by 23 points.[20]


Whitehouse during the Munich Security Conference 2018

In 2007, the National Journal ranked Whitehouse the second-most liberal senator.[21]

He voted to confirm Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.[22][23]

In the spring of 2007, Whitehouse joined other senators in calling for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's resignation.[24] 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."[25] He continued to question Gonzales's service in the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy.[26]

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.[27][28]

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.[29] Whitehouse was ultimately not nominated.

Allegations of insider trading and failure to disclose stock purchases[edit]

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" on September 16, 2008.[30] After meeting with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on September 16, and being briefed on the unfolding financial crisis, Whitehouse sold a number of positions, valued between $250,000 and $600,000, over the next six days.[31][32][33] After coming under scrutiny due to possible insider trading, a spokesperson for his office denied it, saying Whitehouse "is not actively involved in the management" of the implicated accounts 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".[34]

In March 2022, Business Insider reported that Whitehouse had violated the STOCK Act, which is designed to combat insider trading, by failing to disclose two personal stock purchases by the federal deadline. The stocks in question were for the Target Corporation and Tesla, Inc. Whitehouse's office acknowledged that he missed the disclosure deadline, blaming it on a staff transition in his office.[35][36][37][38]

In September 2022, an investigation by The New York Times found that Whitehouse was among the members of Congress who had bought or sold stock that intersected with his congressional work, including trading stock in public companies that came before the committees on which he serves.[39][40]

Committee assignments[edit]


Caucus memberships[edit]

Political positions[edit]

D.C. statehood[edit]

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.[45][46] In July 2020, he cosponsored a Senate bill to grant D.C. statehood.[47]

Environmental issues[edit]

In November 2011, Whitehouse introduced the Safeguarding America's Future and Environment (SAFE) Act, a bill that would require federal natural resource agencies to be concerned with the long-term effects of climate change, encourage states to prepare natural resource adaptation plans, and "create a science advisory board to ensure that the planning uses the best available science".[48]

Of a proposed action on mandatory emissions curbs, Whitehouse told The Hill, "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?'"[49]

Whitehouse dismissed the Climatic Research Unit conspiracy theory: "Climategate should properly be known as Climategate-gate because it was the scandal that was phony."[50]

Whitehouse has said that the 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". 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".[51]

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).[52]

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.[53]

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.[54]

Foreign policy[edit]

Whitehouse supported a vote that would limit continuing U.S. support for the War in Yemen. Initially, he 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.[55][56]

Gun policy[edit]

Whitehouse is a supporter of gun control legislation.[57]

Health care[edit]

He voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.[58] During its passage, Whitehouse cautioned that conservative opposition to the bill was moving toward historical instances of mob violence.[59]

In December 2009, Whitehouse said "birthers", "fanatics", and "people running around in right-wing militia and Aryan support groups" opposed Obamacare.[60]

LGBTQ rights[edit]

In September 2014, Whitehouse was one of 69 members of Congress to sign a letter to then-FDA commissioner Sylvia Burwell requesting that the FDA revise its policy banning donation of corneas and other tissues by men who have had sex with another man in the preceding five years.[61][62] He has publicly supported reintroducing the Equal Rights Amendment.

Political spending[edit]

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.[63] According to Roll Call, "Whitehouse hasn't been as convincing as he'd hoped in his campaign to curb conservative anonymous donors and their influence on the Supreme Court—even as that 'dark money' now floods in to support the judicial nomination process his party controls." Undisclosed political spending by the left exceeds such spending on the right. Roll Call wrote that when talking about undisclosed political spending, Whitehouse "can sound conspiratorial". Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute, serving as a witness at one of Whitehouse's congressional hearings about political spending, said Whitehouse was on a "quixotic crusade".[64] Whitehouse himself has benefited from the influence of dark money. While positioning himself as someone opposed to it, he has a history of accepting dark money and "turning his head when his Democratic colleagues accept money from dark money groups".[65][66]

Whitehouse critiqued conservative dark money groups who backed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's nomination but "has been far quieter about liberal groups that actively opposed Kavanaugh's nomination in their own ad campaigns". Demand Justice, which organized opposition to Kavanaugh's nomination, is a project of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which "makes it practically impossible to trace the source of funds that make its way to Demand Justice". The Washington Post's editorial board wrote that Demand Justice "is set up such that its funding is arguably even more opaque than the nonprofits against which it competes".[67]

In 2019, Whitehouse announced that he intended to introduce legislation that would require groups that file amicus curiae briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court to disclose their donors.[68]

Whitehouse has received over $175,000 in campaign donations from the League of Conservation Voters. Billionaire Tom Steyer has donated $17,300 directly to Whitehouse since 2006. Other donors to Whitehouse include the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council.[69]

In March 2021, Whitehouse convened a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing titled "What's Wrong with the Supreme Court: The Big-Money Assault on Our Judiciary". He alleged that a "multi-hundred million dollar covert operation" influences the U.S. Supreme Court.[70]

Also in March 2021, Whitehouse wrote U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland a letter asking him to investigate "what appears to have been a politically constrained and perhaps fake FBI investigation into alleged misconduct by now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh."[71] Senator Ben Sasse critiqued Whitehouse's allegation that the FBI investigation of Kavanaugh had been "fake", saying "This kind of paranoid obsession is Nixonian poison to public trust."[72]

Personal life[edit]

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. Whitehouse is Episcopalian.[73]

Among Whitehouse's distant ancestors are William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony, and theologian Archibald Alexander.[74][75]

Membership in Bailey's Beach Club[edit]

Whitehouse's longtime ties to the elite private club Bailey's Beach have attracted scrutiny. The New York Times called the club a haven for members of America's "ruling class" and various media outlets have said it has an all-white membership.[76][77] In June 2021, Whitehouse defended his family's membership in the club.[78] Asked whether the club had any nonwhite members, he replied, "I think the people who are running the place are still working on that, and I'm sorry it hasn't happened yet." Asked whether such clubs should continue to exist, he said, "It's a long tradition in Rhode Island." A spokesperson for Whitehouse said the club did not have any restrictive racial policies and that it had members of color. Whitehouse declined to provide details of the club's membership, and the club initially refused to answer questions about its policies or membership.[79][80][81] The club ultimately put out a statement saying reports that all its members were white were "inaccurate and false". The club's president urged members to use "restraint" when speaking to the media. Whitehouse said he would not ask his family members to resign from the club because "they are on the right side of pushing for improvements" and "my relationship with my family is not one in which I tell them what to do".[82]

Whitehouse later acknowledged belonging to a Newport sailing club that he said lacked diversity, saying, "Failing to address the sailing club's lack of diversity is squarely on me, and something for which I am sorry."[83]

Depictions in media[edit]

John Rothman portrayed Whitehouse in the 2019 film The Report.[84]

Pete Davidson portrayed Whitehouse in the cold open of the season 44 premiere of Saturday Night Live.[85]


  • Captured: The Corporate Infiltration of American Democracy. Sheldon Whitehouse, Melanie Wachtell Stinnett. New Press, New York, 2019 ISBN 978-1620974766
  • The Scheme: How the Right Wing Used Dark Money to Capture the Supreme Court. Sheldon Whitehouse, Jennifer Mueller. New Press, New York, Oct. 2022. ISBN 978-1-62097-738-5

Electoral history[edit]

Rhode Island gubernatorial Democratic primary results, 2002[86]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Myrth York 46,806 39.16
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse 45,880 38.39
Democratic Antonio J. Pires 26,838 22.45
Total votes 119,524 100.00
United States Senate Democratic primary results, 2006[86]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse 69,290 81.53
Democratic Christopher F. Young 8,939 10.52
Democratic Carl Sheeler 6,755 7.95
Total votes 84,984 100.00
United States Senate election in Rhode Island, 2006[87]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse 206,043 53.52% +12.37%
Republican Lincoln Chafee (incumbent) 178,950 46.48% -10.40%
Majority 27,093 7.04% -8.69%
Turnout 384,993
Democratic gain from Republican Swing
Democratic primary results, 2012
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse (incumbent) 60,223 100
Total votes 60,223 100
United States Senate election in Rhode Island, 2012[88]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse (incumbent) 271,034 64.81% +11.29%
Republican Barry Hinckley 146,222 34.97% -11.51%
n/a Write-ins 933 0.22% N/A
Total votes 418,189 100.0% N/A
Democratic hold
Democratic primary results, Rhode Island 2018[89]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse (incumbent) 89,140 76.79%
Democratic Patricia J. Fontes 26,947 23.21%
Total votes 116,087 100%
United States Senate election in Rhode Island, 2018[20]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse (incumbent) 231,477 61.45% -3.36%
Republican Robert Flanders 144,421 38.33% +3.36%
Write-in 840 0.22% N/A
Total votes 376,738 100% N/A
Democratic hold


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External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island
Succeeded by
Preceded by Attorney General of Rhode Island
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Rhode Island
(Class 1)

2006, 2012, 2018
Most recent
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Rhode Island
Served alongside: Jack Reed
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Narcotics Caucus
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Budget Committee
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by Order of precedence of the United States
as United States Senator
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States senators by seniority
Succeeded by