Harry Reid, former majority leader of the Democratic Senate, dies at the age of 82

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who rose from a tough childhood in Nevada to become a powerful Democratic force in Congress during Obama’s presidency, died Tuesday. He was 82.

“We are so proud of the legacy he leaves behind both on the national stage and his beloved Nevada,” she said.

As the Senate’s top Democrat, Mr. Reid successfully ousted President George W. Bush from privatizing social security, and later helped pass the 2010 Health Insurance Act, known as the Affordable Care Act. He also led a push to change Senate procedures to confirm nominated leaders and most judges by simple majority, a significant move that permanently changed the character of the chamber.

Late. Harry Reid took part in a demonstration in Washington in 2005 against the privatization of social security. He helped block the effort.


Dennis Brack / Bloomberg News

President Biden, who served with Mr. Reid in the Senate and worked with him as Vice President, praised Mr. Reid as “a dear friend and a giant in our history.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., NY), who succeeded Mr. Reid as party leader, called Mr. Reid for one of his dear friends. “He’s gone but will walk next to many of us in the Senate every day,” he said.

Through the way in which Mr Reid exercised power on the Senate floor – including by exercising almost total command over which measures got votes and which did not – he took control far beyond where even [onetime Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson] had been able to push it, and it changed the institution, “according to” Kill Switch, “a 2021 book written by Mr. Reid’s former deputy chief, Adam Jentleson.

Senator Harry Reid with his wife, Landra, and son Key Reid at a 1994 NCAA reception.


Laura Patterson / CQ Roll Call / Associated Press

Mr. Reid’s tactics infuriated the Republicans, and so did some Democrats. Mr. Reid’s Republican counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), Said in 2013 that if Mr. Reid went into nuclear power – an object to eliminate Senate demands of 60 votes for presidential candidates and allow most confirmations to proceed by a simple majority – he would “be remembered as the worst leader here ever.”

Mr. Reid pushed for change and insisted he had to respond to Mr. McConnell’s constant obstruction. In 2017, Mr. McConnell by running through the elimination of filibusters for the Supreme Court nominees, resulting in the court’s current 6-3 conservative majority. In his retirement, Mr. Reid that the legislative filibuster should also be abolished.

“I really appreciated the sincere and cordial relationship we shared behind the scenes as the passions cooled off,” said Mr. McConnell on Tuesday night, calling him “one of a kind.”

Mr. Reid’s political acumen was obscured by his tendency to speak in a whisper. But his gift for conversation, combined with his habit of observing members’ interpersonal relationships on the Senate floor and in closed-door lunches, meant he was brought in for information on all aspects of the Senate. He expanded this control by backing the creation of the Senate Majority PAC, the fundraising juggernaut designed to support Senate Democratic candidates, giving him influence over not just what happened on the Senate floor, but which Democrats populated the arena.

Mr. Reid’s pugilistic streak – he boxed in his young days – stretched into election politics. He tried to undercut Mitt Romney by repeatedly – and without evidence – claiming that the GOP presidential candidate in 2012 had not paid any personal income tax over the course of a decade, an accusation that Mr. Romney refused.

“I do not regret it at all,” said Mr. Reid for CNN in 2015. “Romney did not win, did he?”

Mr. Reid was born on December 2, 1939 in Searchlight, Nev., To an alcoholic miner and a mother who received laundry from brothels and card dealers at casinos, the senator wrote in “The Good Fight.” He said he learned to swim at a brothel swimming pool.

After earning a law degree from George Washington University while working as a police officer in the U.S. Capitol, Mr. Reid’s political career as a lawyer for the small town of Henderson, Nev. His big breakthrough came when he was elected lieutenant governor the same year that his political mentor, Mike O’Callaghan, was elected governor. At the age of 30, Mr. Reid the youngest elected lieutenant governor in Nevada’s history.

Sir. Reid later stumbled with a couple of election losses, only to regain a foothold when Mr. O’Callaghan named him Nevada’s best gambling regulator in the late 1970s.

Late. Harry Reid spoke at a press conference on Capitol Hill in 2009 about health care reform legislation.


Michael Reynolds / EPA / Shutterstock

The job he had until 1981 put Mr. Reid came face to face with organized crime and helped him build a reputation for toughness. Sir. Reid teamed up with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to establish a stabbing operation after a man tried to bribe him. “You fool, you tried to bribe me!” Sir. Reid exclaimed before the FBI could intervene.

His blunt streak, which some called apolitical, was a recurring theme in his political career. In 2006, Mr. Reid urged then-Senator Barack Obama to run in the presidential election, telling Mr. Obama that “you’re not going anywhere here. I know you do not like it,” according to “Game Change,” a book by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin about the 2008 presidential election (Mr. Reid had also predicted , that Mr. Obama could become the country’s first black president because he was “light-skinned and had no Negro dialect unless he wanted one,” according to the same book. He later apologized).

President Barack Obama embraced Senator Harry Reid during a Las Vegas rally for the Senator in May 2009.


Pete Souza / The White House

“I would not have been president if it had not been for your encouragement and support, and I would not have gotten most of what I got done without your skill and determination,” Mr. Obama to Mr. Reid in a letter. former president shared on Twitter Tuesday evening.

Mr. Reid withdrew from the Senate in early 2017 after a training band broke while training in his home, twisted him around in closets and broke four ribs along with bones around his right eye.

Mr. Reid played an important role in Nevada’s political life. He invested in the state Democratic Party and developed a close relationship with the Culinary Workers’ Union, building a political machine that helped put the Democrats in office even in years like 2016, when other swinging states voted for the Republicans when Donald Trump was swept into office.

Reid persuaded Mr. Obama to declare the Basin and Range area of ​​southeastern Nevada a national monument, putting an area almost the size of Rhode Island out of bounds of development. Mr. Reid became a champion of the rights of the dreamers, young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, after forming a friendship with a young, undocumented immigrant living in Nevada.

Mr. Reid leaves behind his wife, Landra, and his five children, Lana, Rory, Leif, Josh and Key, along with several grandchildren.

Senator Harry Reid worked in his office with staff member Bill Dauster in March 2015. Reid resigned from the Senate in early 2017 following an accident at his home.


TJ Kirkpatrick for The Wall Street Journal

Write to Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com

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