Biden, Obama pay tribute to late Sen. Harry Reid

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Former President Barack Obama remembered former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., as a dogged fighter who defied the odds to become one of the most powerful and successful politicians in America. 

“And let’s face it, he enjoyed every minute of proving doubters wrong again and again and again,” Obama said in a eulogy for Reid on Saturday. 

Reid, Nevada‘s longest-serving member of Congress who rose to serve as Senate majority leader, died Dec. 28, 2021, at the age of 82. He battled pancreatic cancer. 

Reid was honored by his children, Obama and President Biden at his memorial service in Las Vegas as a dedicated family man and accomplished lawmaker.

President Joe Biden speaks during a memorial service for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the Smith Center in Las Vegas, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Born in Searchlight, Nevada, to an alcoholic father who killed himself at 58 and a mother who served as a laundress in a bordello, Reid grew up in a small cabin without indoor plumbing and swam with other children at a pool at a local brothel. He hitchhiked to Basic High School in Henderson, Nevada, 40 miles from home, where he met the wife he would marry in 1959, Landra Gould. 

“Harry Reid will be considered one of the greatest Senate Majority Leaders in history,” Biden said. 

Reid didn’t own a tuxedo and wasn’t a fan of the trappings of Washington parties and fundraisers, according to speakers, but he was guided by the well-being of his fellow Americans.

“It was all Searchlight, no spotlight,” Biden said of Reid. 

Obama said Reid was very generous to him as a young senator from Illinois and was one of the first people to encourage him to run for president. Obama said Reid was a man of “old school virtues” who was a fighter throughout his presidency to pass his agenda, including the Affordable Care Act. 

“It’s a debt to him that I could never fully repay,” Obama said.

Obama then contradicted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comments that she didn’t hear Reid speak ill of his colleagues. 

“I don’t know about that, Nancy,” Obama said to laughs. 

Still, Obama said Reid was pragmatic and would work with those he didn’t like.

“In a battle between perfection and progress, Harry always chose progress,” Obama said.

“Harry got things done,” Obama added.

Reid was in Congress from 1983 until his retirement in 2017.  He served as Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015.

Reid became most well-known for his use of the “nuclear option” in 2013, leading the charge to end the filibuster on executive branch nominees and judicial nominees other than to the Supreme Court.

President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff attend a memorial service for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the Smith Center in Las Vegas, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. 
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Reid initially broke into elected office in 1969, serving in the Nevada Assembly until 1971. He then served as lieutenant governor of Nevada from 1971-1975 before being elected to serve Nevada’s first district in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982. He was first elected to the Senate in 1987.

The Nevada lawmaker consistently bucked his own party on the issue of Roe v. Wade, which he believed should be overturned. A fierce advocate of conservation, he helped spearhead designating nearly 5.1 million acres of Nevada land as federally protected.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.considered Reid his mentor and said his friend was “tough as nails” and a “fighter to his core.” 

But he also shared stories of levity, including Reid slipping him $400 in cash so Schumer could buy better shoes and Reid being so excited about Democrats retaking the Senate in 2006 he kissed Claire McCaskill through the TV screen as election returns came in showing she won the Senate seat in Missouri.

“His lips remained attached to the TV screen for a full 10 seconds,” Schumer quipped. “He kissed Claire’s image so passionately, I had to get up and wipe the copious spittle off the TV screen.”

UNITED STATES – DECEMBER 08: Retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., right, hugs incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., during Reid’s portrait unveiling ceremony in Russell Building’s Kennedy Caucus Room, December 08, 2016.
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Reid played a central role in helping push the agenda of former President Barack Obama, leading the charge to unify all 60 members of the Democratic caucus in support of the Affordable Care Act in 2009.

Despite widespread backlash to that law during the 2010 midterm elections, Reid defeated Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle by six points as other Republicans won a landslide election to retake the House.

Reid’s wisp-thin voice betrayed his steely exterior. A combative former boxer, Reid was a tough dealmaker with an abrupt style. He was remembered for his habit of hanging up the phone on people without saying goodbye. 

“I immodestly say that I probably got hung up on the most by Harry Reid, two or three times a day for 12 years,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at the funeral.

Biden apparently wasn’t immune to the hang-ups either. 

“Every time I hear a dial tone I think of Harry,” Biden said.  

Former President Barack Obama speaks during a memorial service for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the Smith Center in Las Vegas, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. 
(AP Photo/John Locher)

Biden praised Reid for his loyalty, faith, and keeping his word. 

“Harry would always have your back,” Biden said. 

In 2012, Reid caught heat for falsely accusing then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney of not paying taxes for 10 years. He made the claim on the floor of the Senate and showed no remorse for it, telling the Washington Post in 2016 it was “one of the best things I’ve ever done” because Obama beat Romney in the election.  

Reid was the third of four sons. He attended Southern Utah University before graduating from Utah State University in 1961, where he double-majored in political science and history. From there he attended George Washington University Law School, working as a Capitol Police officer while simultaneously earning his J.D. degree in 1964.

He is survived by his wife, Landra Gould, and five children.

Reid will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 12.

Fox News’ Chad Pergram and Michael Lee contributed to this report as well as the Associated Press.
 

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