WASHINGTON – President Biden and former President Barack Obama honored Harry M. Reid on Saturday as a staunch son of Nevada who has become an outspoken but vital leader in the Senate, where he has spearheaded landmark Democratic legislation while tolerating little vanity or praise.
“Harry cared so much about his fellow Americans and so little about what people thought of him,” Mr Biden said at a memorial service for Mr Reid, who died late last month at the age of 82, at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas.
“He was just a spotlight, not a spotlight,” the president added, referring to the Nevada mining outpost where Mr. Reid grew up.
Along with the current and former president, the memorial service also included testimonials from other prominent Democrats, including President Nancy Pelosi and New York Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer, a sign of Mr. Reid on his party. Vice President Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff, the second gentleman, as well as Jill Biden, the first lady, were also seated in the audience.
Each speaker, including Mr. Reid’s daughter and four sons, spoke of their passion for the Senate and their love for their home country. His son Leif Reid noted that his father was such a fan of Las Vegas-based band The Killers that he requested that their lead singer, Brandon Flowers, perform at his memorial service.
Prior to performing the Nevada state song, “Home Means Nevada,” Mr. Flowers told the audience a story of visiting the Capitol and being directed by Mr. Reid to perform the song for Mr. Schumer.
Other speakers have told stories of the tenacity of former boxer Mr Reid as he guided monumental Democratic victories through Congress, including a sweeping economic stimulus package in response to the Great Recession, a new set of rules for taming Wall Street and the biggest expansion in health care coverage since the Great Society of the 1960s.
“Let there be no doubt: Harry Reid will be considered one of the greatest Senate majority leaders in history,” Biden said.
Mr. Reid became the face of Senate Democrats after being elected by his colleagues as Minority Leader in 2005, then became Majority Leader in 2007 when Democrats took control of the chamber. He faced all comers, Republicans or Democrats, and was known for his straightforward approach which sometimes got him in trouble.
Ms Pelosi recalled Mr Reid as a man of few words.
âAnd he wanted everyone to be a person of few words,â she said.
Ms. Pelosi joined others in describing Mr. Reid’s penchant for hanging up the phone on his colleagues. He couldn’t tolerate dragging out a conversation with a farewell. She described her modesty: He once stopped her attempt to celebrate her accomplishments by throwing her a retirement dinner.
âI don’t want to do it,â Ms. Pelosi recalls, telling her Mr. Reid told her. “Save money. Feed the poor.”
Ms Pelosi said she had never heard Mr Reid say “a mean word to any of his Senate colleagues,” prompting Mr Obama to check the facts.
âI don’t know about that, Nancy,â Mr. Obama later said as the audience burst out laughing. “But he would work with them.”
After a notoriously difficult upbringing in Searchlight and a start in state politics, Mr. Reid was elected to the House in 1982 and to the Senate in 1986. He was the second Democrat in the Senate when Senator Tom Daschle of Dakota of the South was the party leader. , and when Mr. Daschle lost his bid for re-election in 2004, Mr. Reid quickly outsmarted potential rivals for the top spot.
As the Democratic leader, Mr. Reid jostled with President George W. Bush, whom he once called a “loser,” on the Iraq war and various domestic issues. Democrats pushed voters’ dissatisfaction with Mr. Bush to control of the Senate in the 2006 election.
In late 2008, as Mr. Bush’s second term drew to a close, Mr. Reid was instrumental in working with the White House to avert a nation-wide economic collapse by leading the Ailing Assets Relief Program. $ 700 billion in Congress and stabilizing the economy.
Mr. Reid took staunchly conservative positions early in his career, including opposing abortion and looser immigration laws. But his positions changed as the demographics of his state changed, and he eventually became a champion of undocumented immigrants and a proponent of access to abortion. Mr Obama said that after Mr Reid introduced legislation to repeal the birthright, Mr Reid’s wife Landra influenced him on immigration by reminding him that his father had been a Russian immigrant.
Mr Obama added: âLater Harry will say: ‘I realized that I was far from the base. I’m so glad she righted the ship.
Mr. Reid encouraged Mr. Obama to run for president ahead of the 2008 election, even though Mr. Obama was a junior member of the Senate at the time. And after Mr. Obama won the White House, Mr. Reid was one of his most trusted and important allies, using every legislative weapon at his disposal to secure the approval of the stimulus bill. and, most importantly, the Affordable Care Act, which passed the Senate in 2009 during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve.
“Harry’s deals to pass this law didn’t always look pretty,” Obama said, adding: “Whenever I objected to a change he wanted to make, let it be due to political concerns or worries about optics Harry would tell me with some exasperation in his voice, “Mr. President, you know a lot more about health care policy than I do, okay? But I know the Senate.
Mr Biden, a former senator who is now struggling to pass his own domestic policy bill, livened up as he described Mr Reid’s negotiating tactics and victories in Congress. âIf Harry said he was going to do something, he did,â he said, adding, âYou can count on that. This is how he did so many things for the good of the country for so many decades.
Democrats suffered significant losses in 2010 but retained the Senate, while Mr Reid himself survived a heavy challenge from an opponent aligned with the far right. Mr Reid, who suffered serious injuries in a home exercise accident in 2015, chose not to run for re-election in 2016 and returned to Nevada, where he remained a key political intermediary.
Mr. Obama closed his remarks with the word Mr. Reid shunned in his phone calls, the farewell he did not consider necessary.
âBut it’s for us,â Mr. Obama said. âBye, Harry. “