Harry Reid, longtime Nevada senator and former Democratic leader, dies at 82
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“I am heartbroken to announce the passing of my husband, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He passed away peacefully this afternoon, surrounded by our family, following a courageous battle of four years against pancreatic cancer, ”she said in a statement Tuesday.
Reid rose from humble beginnings in Searchlight, Nevada to become the most powerful politician in Nevada history, ending his political career as the Democratic leader in the Senate, including eight years in the majority.
Former President Barack Obama issued a letter he wrote to Reid before his death instead of a statement. “I would not have been President without your encouragement and support, and I would not have achieved most of what I have done without your skills and determination,” Obama wrote.
Humble beginnings in the US Senate
The start of Reid’s life did not presage his political future. Born in 1939 in a modest house with no running water, his mother once made money doing laundry for local brothels, he wrote in his memoir, “The Good Fight”, while his father worked as a hard miner. -rock. He attended high school in Henderson, Nevada, often hitchhiking the 45 mile road.
A boxer in his youth, Reid then attended Utah State University before moving to Washington, DC, and pursuing his law studies at George Washington University working as an officer for the Capitol Police. United States.
“I think I’m the only former Capitol Hill cop here to be a senator,” Reid said in 2011. “I have such great respect for the work they do.”
After studying law, Reid returned to Nevada and served as lieutenant governor from 1971 to 1975, the youngest person elected to that position in the state. After losing his re-election, Reid served as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, a powerful office that oversees and regulates the state’s casino industry. The work made Reid and his family a crowd target: After leaving the post, his wife found a bomb in the family car, Reid wrote in her memoir.
Reid’s political career grew with Nevada. When the state went from one congressional district to two after the 1980 census, Reid ran for a newly established congressional district around Las Vegas in 1982 and won the general election. He was re-elected in 1984. He then successfully ran for the open seat of the Nevada Senate in 1986.
He rose through the leadership ranks there, as Democratic House Whip from 1999-2005. From 2005 until his retirement in 2017, he served as his party leader in the Senate, while Democrats were in office. both minority and majority.
As the Democratic House leader, Reid was a polarizing figure. Republicans have argued that much of the congressional stalemate stemmed from its hardball tactics, but Reid often reveled in playing the political villain – even calling President George W. Bush a “loser” and of “liar”. (Later, when Donald Trump was in the White House, Reid told CNN’s Bash that he wished Bush “every day.”)
Reid is often accused of deepening an era of political polarization with irascible rhetoric about Republicans and the use of controversial Senate procedures that left traditionalists worried that the consensus that once made the chamber special is gone forever.
He also brought these same tactics to electoral politics. During Obama’s 2012 re-election bid, Reid accused Republican candidate Mitt Romney, without any evidence, of not paying his taxes. Asked by CNN in 2015 if he regretted the attack, Reid replied, “I don’t regret it at all.”
“Romney didn’t win, did he? Reid asked rhetorically.
As much as he angered Republicans, he was often hailed by Democrats for being the last line of defense against Bush and other Republicans. He was a strong advocate of social programs and, reflecting the wishes of the large Latin American community in his country, a supporter of immigration reform.
Reid promulgated the centerpieces of Obama’s liberal political legacy into law, and he said one of his proudest accomplishments had been to cheer on the then senator. Obama will run for president.
“I called him into my office and told him he should take a look. And he was stunned because I was the first to suggest this to him,” Reid told CNN in 2015.
“When he got re-elected, (it was) one of the most emotional phone calls I ever got because he said, you know, ‘You are the reason I’m here’,” Reid remembers.
Obama reiterated this sentiment in his letter to Reid published Tuesday night. “Here’s what I want you to know. You were a great leader in the Senate, and at first you were more generous to me than I was entitled to expect,” Obama wrote.
“As different as we are, I think we both saw something of ourselves in each other – a few strangers who had defied the odds and knew how to take a punch and cared about the little one. Guys. And you know what, we made for a pretty good team, “he added.
In the darkest hours of the Great Recession, Reid ushered in a nearly $ 800 billion economic stimulus package through the Senate despite insurmountable disputes with most Republicans who said it was too expensive and that he was accumulating too much debt.
He later piloted the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, in the Senate using a controversial budget maneuver known as reconciliation to get around a Republican obstruction, and he told the GOP to ” stop crying “about it.
In today’s Washington, the former senator’s impact is perhaps most evident in his 2013 change to Senate rules to prevent obstructions to most executive appointments.
He told CNN last year that he “absolutely” has no regrets about changing the rules at the time, saying, “I have no regrets. It was the right thing to do. well, this is not the first time the rules have been changed. They have been changed several times. It was time to start over. ”
Widespread use of filibuster has skyrocketed in recent years in an increasingly polarized Congress. The change prompted Reid to write an opinion piece in The New York Times in 2019 calling for an end to the filibuster.
Despite his brutal political style, Reid has inspired fierce respect from many of his longtime aides, as well as fellow lawmakers, even those across the way.
“I’m telling you, there is nobody, nobody, nobody better to have in your corner than Harry Reid,” Schumer said when a portrait of Reid was unveiled before he left the Senate in 2016. .
Reid told CNN earlier this year he had “a lot of respect” for John Boehner, the former Speaker of the Republican House in Ohio with whom he fought for years, as he reacted to excerpts from Boehner’s memoir and castigated the Republican Party’s most recent “tribal”. ” tower.
“The deal is this. John Boehner and I have done a lot of things, but we haven’t mince words,” he said.
Love and inheritance
Despite Reid’s reputation as a relentless, unscrupulous negotiator in getting rid of his opponents, he was also known as a romantic and the most influential person in his life was his wife, Landra. The two met in high school when Reid was 15. Her father was so averse to the two encounters that Reid and her future stepfather got into a fight at the start of their courtship.
Reid, who was raised agnostic, told Bash in 2015 that their opposition was that they wanted their daughter to marry a Jew. They escaped in 1959 while attending college, converting to Mormonism a year later. His parents ended up attacking him.
“I’m a blessed man to have this 5 foot woman with me all these years,” Reid said.
The former Senate Majority Leader credited one thing for his political success over the years: hard work.
“I haven’t been successful in life because of my athletic prowess. I haven’t done it because of my good looks. I haven’t done it because I’m a genius,” he said. stated in his farewell speech to the Senate. sol in 2016. “I did it because I worked hard.”
Reid’s most lasting legacy will likely be felt in Nevada, where the senator not only remade the Western state, but turned it into a Democratic stronghold that last supported a Republican president in 2004.
“The Searchlight baby boy may have been part of a changing state of Nevada,” he said in his 2016 farewell speech.
Reid helped push Democrats to make Nevada one of the nation’s premier nominating contests, a move that caught the attention of Democrats in Nevada and was a catalyst for his shift to the left. He has often pushed Democrats to make Nevada even bigger, urging the party, because of the state’s diversity, to move the state ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire, the top two states in the process of nomination.
In recognition of the impact Reid has had on Nevada, the Clark County Council of Commissioners voted earlier this year to rename McCarran International Airport to Harry Reid International Airport.
Reid reflected on his life – and the role he played in changing Nevada – when he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nevada Democratic Party in 2019.
“It’s a long way from Searchlight to Washington,” he said. “But I didn’t arrive alone. I arrived because of you, Nevadans.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
Stephen Collinson and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.
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