Born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Pryor is the son of former Arkansas Governor and U.S. Senator David Pryor. He received his bachelor's degree and law degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He worked in private practice for several years until being elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1990. He was elected the state Attorney General in 1998. Pryor announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2001, running for the same Senate seat his father had held from 1979 to 1997. He was elected with 54 percent of the vote.
He was re-elected with no Republican opposition in 2008. During the 112th Congress he served as the chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance. Pryor ran for re-election in 2014, but lost to Representative Tom Cotton.
Pryor was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to the former state First Lady Barbara Jean (Lunsford) and former Governor and U.S. Senator David Hampton Pryor. He attended Little Rock Central High School and Walt Whitman High School in Maryland, graduating in 1981. He graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and went on to receive his Juris Doctor from the university's law school in 1988. During college, he was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.
Prior to entering politics, Pryor worked as a private practice attorney. He was a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1991 to 1995. In 1994, he ran for Arkansas Attorney General, challenging incumbent Winston Bryant in the Democratic primary. Pryor lost 58%-42%. In 1998, he ran for the same position again and became the Democratic Party nominee. He defeated Republican nominee Betty Dicky, the Redfield City Attorney, 59%-41%. He won all but four counties in the state: Benton, Boone, Marion, and Baxter. He was also delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2000.
Pryor was recognized for providing a high level of constituent service, and he helped to secure millions of dollars in highway funds for the state. Pryor was also a committed advocate of the state’s military families; he guided the SACRIFICE Act to passage, thus providing families of those injured in combat more timely and reliable medical care. 2002
In late 2001, Pryor announced his candidacy for the Senate seat held by Tim Hutchinson, who six years earlier had become the first Arkansas Republican to serve in that body since Reconstruction. The seat had been held by his father David Pryor (also a former Arkansas governor), who actively campaigned for his son. Pryor defeated Hutchinson 54% to 46% and was the only Democratic candidate for the Senate to defeat a Republican incumbent in that election cycle.2008
Pryor won re-election in 2008 without a Republican opponent. There had been speculation that former Governor Mike Huckabee would run against Pryor if his presidential bid was unsuccessful, but on March 8, Huckabee said he would not contest the race. The only Republican to express interest in the race, health care executive Tom Formicola, decided not to run. Pryor's only announced opponent was Green Party candidate Rebekah Kennedy, whom he defeated 80% to 20%.2014
Pryor ran for re-election to a third term in 2014, against Republican U.S. House Rep. Tom Cotton.
In March 2014, during an MSNBC news segment regarding the Senate race, Pryor said that Cotton gave off a "sense of entitlement" to a seat in the Senate due to his service in the military. After receiving much criticism for the remark, Pryor later said he was not attacking Cotton’s military service, but his perceived lack of accomplishments in the House: "But the point remains that he's been in the House now for a little over a year, he hasn't passed any legislation. There's not one thing he's done for Arkansas."
FactCheck.org called two ads aired by Pryor's 2014 Senate campaign misleading in their criticisms of Paul Ryan's Medicare plan, supported by his opponent.
Pryor lost to Cotton by a 57% to 39% margin.
Somewhat atypically, he was, for 19 days in January 2009, the Baby of the Senate, despite not having previously held that distinction during his first term, because of the defeat of the younger John E. Sununu. Pryor was the oldest Senator (at age 45) to become "Baby of the Senate."
In June 2007, before the annual Arkansas Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson dinner, Pryor announced his endorsement of his colleague Sen. Hillary Clinton for the President of the United States.
In 2013, Pryor voted with President Obama 90% of the time.
Since 2009, Pryor's top three donors have been lawyers ($1,131,431), leadership PACs ($429,149), and lobbyists ($323,769).
On February 13, 2009, Pryor voted to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
On April 16, 2012, Pryor was the only Democratic Senator to vote against the "Buffett Rule", which was defeated 51 voting in favor to 45 voting against cloture of the Filibuster.
In April 2014, the United States Senate debated the Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 1737; 113th Congress). The bill would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) to increase the federal minimum wage for employees to $10.10 per hour over the course of a two-year period. The bill was strongly supported by President Barack Obama and many of the Democratic Senators, but strongly opposed by Republicans in the Senate and House. Pryor opposed the bill. Pryor was up for election in 2014 and was at that time considered "the Senate's most vulnerable incumbent."
In June 2006, Pryor voted against repeal of the federal estate tax. In 2013, Pryor and Senator John Boozman (R-AR) were credited by Arkansas Farm Bureau president Randy Veach for their opposition to President Obama's plan to raise the estate tax. Pryor co-sponsored a bill that would implement a one-year extension on current estate tax rates. The bill did not pass. In 2008 Pryor voted against expanding the pool of people exempt from the estate tax.
Pryor voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (usually called "Obamacare") in December 2009, and later voted against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.
Pryor has said that he would vote for Obamacare again.
Pryor opposes bringing Guantanamo Bay prisoners to the United States for trial.
On September 28, 2006, Pryor was one of 12 Senate Democrats who voted to adopt S.3930, the Military Commissions Act of 2006. He voted against the flag burning amendment in June 2006.
On March 15, 2007, Pryor was one of two Democratic Senators to vote against a resolution aimed at withdrawing most American combat troops from Iraq in 2008. The vote, requiring 60 votes to pass, was 50 to 48 against.
In 2003, Pryor voted for a federal ban on partial-birth abortion. He has voted in favor of the expansion of embryonic stem cell research. He voted against restricting UN funding for population control policies, prohibiting minors crossing state lines for abortion, and barring Health and Human Services grants to organizations that perform abortions.
On December 18, 2010, Pryor voted in favor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010.
In 2004, Pryor voted to extend the "Assault Weapons Ban".
In 2013, Pryor voted against a measure that would have required background checks for all firearms purchases.
In March 2013, Pryor cosponsored a bill that would flag individuals attempting to buy guns who have used an insanity defense, were ruled dangerous by a court, or had been committed by a court to mental health treatment. It did not address the gun show loophole. The bill has not been passed into law.
On May 23, 2005, Pryor was one of the 14 senators who forged a compromise on the Democrats' use of the judicial filibuster. This effectively ended any threat of a Democratic filibuster (and thus also avoided the Republican leadership's threatened implementation of the so-called nuclear option.) Under the agreement, the Democrats would exercise the power to filibuster a Bush judicial nominee only in an "extraordinary circumstance." The threat of a filibuster removed, Republicans were able to force cloture on the three most conservative Bush appellate court nominees (Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen and William Pryor-no relation), who subsequently passed a vote by the full Republican-controlled Senate. He did, however, vote against the nomination of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Pryor introduced the Drought Information Act of 2013 (S. 376; 113th Congress) on February 25, 2013. The bill that would authorize funding for the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) through 2018. The NIDIS is "charged with providing timely information to prevent drought and extreme weather damage." The bill passed the United States Senate on February 3, 2014.
Pryor introduced the bill "To repeal section 403 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013" on January 27, 2014. The bill would repeal the provision of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 that would reduce the amount of the annual cost of living increase to non-disabled military veterans under age 62. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that enacting Pryor's bill would stop the reduction of $6.813 billion from the amount paid to veterans annually.Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies (Chairman)
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee on Defense
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
Committee on Commerce, Science, Transportation
Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security
Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Insurance, and Automotive Safety (Chairman)
Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation, and Export Promotion
Subcommittee on Science and Space
Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Subcommittee on Emergency Management, Intergovernmental Relations, and the District of Columbia
Subcommittee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce
Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight
Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
Committee on Rules and Administration
Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
Select Committee on Ethics
In March 2015, Pryor became a partner at the law and lobbying firm, Venable.
Pryor lives in Little Rock and has a son and a daughter, Adams and Porter. He was married to Jill Pryor from July 4, 1992 until their divorce in July 2012.
In 1996, Pryor was diagnosed with clear-cell sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in his left leg. His treatment and rehabilitation took 15 months, and he was told by one doctor that he might have to have his leg amputated, but it was discovered early enough and the cancer was successfully removed.
Pryor is Christian. He was featured in the 2008 Bill Maher documentary Religulous, in which he tells Maher that he could believe in Young Earth creationism, yet he also sees evolution as a feasible idea. He states at the beginning of the interview that he is an Evangelical Christian. He also states that he believes in the Rapture, and that "You don't need to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate".
According to author Jeff Sharlet, Pryor is affiliated with a political organization called the Family. Sharlet quoted Pryor as stating that through the Family he "had learned that the separation of church and state was a sort of secular exaggeration" and that "Jesus did not come to bring peace. Jesus came to take over."