“I am deeply saddened to announce the death of my husband, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He passed away peacefully this afternoon surrounded by our family after a brave four-year battle with pancreatic cancer,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.
From humble beginnings in Searchlight, Nevada, Reid rose to become the most powerful politician in Nevada history, capping his political career as a Democratic leader in the Senate, including eight years in the majority.
President Joe Biden, who served with Reid in the Senate, called him one of the “greatest Senate majority leaders ever in our history” in a statement Tuesday.
Former President Barack Obama released a letter he wrote to Reid before his death in lieu 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 accomplished without your skill and determination,” Obama wrote.
From humble beginnings to the US Senate
A boxer in his youth, Reed later attended Utah State University before moving to Washington, DC, and made his way through George Washington University Law School by working as an officer in the United States Capitol Police.
“I think I’m the only ex-capitol policeman here who’s a senator,” Reid said in 2011. “I have great respect for the work they do.”
Reed’s political career grew with Nevada. When the state went from one congressional district to two after the 1980 census, Reed ran for the newly created 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 Nevada Senate seat in 1986.
He rose to leadership positions there, serving as the Democratic whip for the Chamber from 1999 to 2005. From 2005 until his retirement in 2017, he served as his party’s leader in the Senate, during the tenure of both minority and majority Democrats.
Reid is often blamed for deepening an era of political polarization with furious rhetoric about Republicans and use of controversial Senate measures that left traditionalists worried that the consensus that once made the Chamber private has disappeared for good.
“Romney didn’t win, did he?” Reed asked rhetorically.
As much as he annoyed Republicans, he was often welcomed by Democrats as being the last line of defense for Bush and other Republicans. A staunch advocate of social programs, he reflected the wishes of the large Latino community back home, and he was an advocate of immigration reform.
“I called him into my office and told him he should take a look,” Reid told CNN in 2015. “He was shocked because I was the first to ever suggest it to him.”
“When I was re-elected,[it was]one of the most touching phone calls I’ve ever had because he said, you know, ‘You’re the reason I’m here,'” Reid recalls.
Obama echoed this sentiment in the letter he sent to Reid, which was issued on Tuesday evening. Obama wrote, “This is what I want you to know. You have been a great leader in the Senate, and early on you have been more generous to me than I could have anticipated.”
“Despite our differences, I think we saw something in each other – two strangers who defied the odds and knew how to deal with this little guy. And you know what we made for a good team.”
Former President Bill Clinton also praised Post, remembering him as “one of the most effective Senate leaders our country has ever known.”
“We will likely never see another civil servant quite like him – in his personality, his command of strategy and tactics, and the certainty of walking to the beat of his drum,” Clinton said in a statement.
In the darkest hours of the Great Recession, Reid launched an economic stimulus plan worth nearly $800 billion through the Senate despite insurmountable disagreements with most Republicans, who said it was too expensive and too heavily indebted.
Later, he led the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, through the Senate using a controversial budget maneuver known as Reconciliation to bypass Republican disruption, telling the Republican Party to “stop crying” about it.
“During the two decades that we worked together in the United States Senate, and the eight years that we worked together while serving as Vice President, Harry met the mark of what I have always believed to be the most important thing by which you can measure a person — their action and their word,” Biden said in his Tuesday statement. .
The president added: “If Harry says he’s going to do something, he has. If he gives you his word, you can count on it. That’s how he’s done things for the country for decades.”
Despite his blunt political style, Reed has inspired intense respect from many of his old lieutenants, as well as fellow legislators—even those who live across the aisle.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been at odds with Reade throughout their long careers, remembers him as a “one-of-a-kind” senator, saying their relationship transcended political disputes.
The Kentucky Republican said, “Harry’s nature and my jobs have led us into frequent and sometimes intense struggles over politics and politics. But I never doubted Harry was always doing what he was doing so earnestly, and deeply felt it was right for Nevada and our country.” “History will rightly go down as a decisive and pivotal figure in the development and history of his beloved mother country.”
Reade told CNN earlier this year he had “a lot of respect” for John Boehner, the former Republican House speaker from Ohio with whom he has quarrelled for years, as he reacted to excerpts from Boehner’s memoir and criticized the more recent tribal GOP. A turn or turn.
“The deal is this. John Boehner and I have accomplished a lot, but we haven’t lost sight of the words,” he said.
Love and legacy
Despite Reed’s reputation as a tough bargainer without any qualms about abandoning 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 Reed was fifteen. Her father was so opposed to them dating that Red and his would-be father got into a fistfight early in their engagement.
Reed, who grew up not knowing, told Bach in 2015 that their opposition was that they wanted their daughter to marry a Jew. They escaped in 1959 while in college, converting to Mormonism a year later. Her parents finally came around.
“I am a blessed man to have this 5-foot-tall woman with me all these years,” Reid said.
The former Senate Majority Leader credited his political success over the years to one thing: hard work.
In his farewell address to the Senate, he said, “I didn’t make it in life because of my athletic skill. I didn’t make it because of my good looks. I didn’t do it because I was a genius.” Floor in 2016. “I made it because I worked hard.”
Reid’s more enduring legacy will likely be felt in Nevada, where the senator has not only reshaped the western state, but transformed it into a Democratic stronghold that he last supported a Republican president in 2004.
“The little boy from Searchlight was able to be a part of a changing state of Nevada,” he said in his farewell speech in 2016.
Reid was instrumental in pushing Democrats to make Nevada one of the nation’s first nomination contests, a move that focused Democrats’ attention on Nevada and was a catalyst in its shift to the left. Democrats often pushed to make Nevada more important, and urged the party, due to the state’s diversity, to move the state ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states in the nomination process.
He also used his power to raise the profile of young politicians, such as Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, whom the former Senate Majority Leader recruited to run for his seat when he was retiring in 2016.
“Harry Reid has been a champion for the state of Nevada, helping preserve our precious ecological treasures, strengthen our rural communities, and build our great cities,” Cortez Masto recalled in a statement Tuesday. “The American people are better off because of the leadership of Senator Harry Reid.”
In recognition of Reed’s impact on Nevada, the Clark County Board of Commissioners earlier this year voted to rename McCarran International Airport to Harry Reid International Airport.
Reed reflected on his life—and the role he played in transforming Nevada—when he received the Nevada Democratic Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.
“It’s a long way from Searchlight to Washington,” he said. “But I didn’t get there alone. I got there because of you, Nevadance.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
Stephen Collinson and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.