Former Senator Harry Reid was remembered Wednesday as a “legendary leader” as his colleagues and friends gathered at the US Capitol to pay tribute to a difficult Democrat who rose from poverty in a dusty Nevada mining town to the most powerful office in the Senate.
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Reed lay in the Capitol Rotunda while Vice President Kamala Harris, senators and others joined the ceremony, closed to the public under COVID-19 protocols. Reed, who had pancreatic cancer, died last month at the age of 82.
“Seeing him lead and legislate was like seeing a master at work,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from California.
“Harry Reid made the world a better place,” Pelosi said. She called Reed “a legendary and honest leader.”
Reed has served longer in Congress than anyone else in his state, and was the Senate Majority Leader along with two presidents. He chaired the Senate during one of the most important legislative sessions, securing the passage of the Great Recession Economic Recovery Bill and President Barack Obama’s landmark health care bill.
For several of these years, Pelosi and Reed worked side by side, each leading a different cell.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Reed’s ward and Senate successor, recalled his friend as “a fighter to the core, but one of the most compassionate people imaginable.”
“Few have influenced the operation of this building like our dear friend from Nevada. Few have dedicated their lives to human work the way Harry did. And today our feelings of loss and gratitude are immeasurable, ”said Schumer.
The few words Reed spoke were often harsh and fiery. He was not afraid to challenge presidents (he called George W. Bush “a failure”), criticize the fossil fuel industry (“coal makes us sick”) or declare the war in Iraq “lost.” He called his 2008 autobiography Good Fight.
The retired influential Reed said Biden should give his new president just three weeks to try and work with Republicans. If not, then Biden should push for changes to the Senate’s anti-sanctions rules to allow simple majorities in elections and voting rights legislation and other priorities, Reed said.
Reed was born in the abandoned mining town of Searchlight. His father was a miner who committed suicide. His mother washed brothel houses.
Reed hitchhiked about 40 miles to attend high school and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while he was in college and law school. An amateur boxer, he once stabbed his future father-in-law after he was denied a date with Landra Gould, who would become his wife. They have been married for 62 years.
First elected to the House of Representatives in 1982 and re-elected in 1984, Reid then served 30 years in the Senate, including ten years as leader of the Senate Democrats.