Former Senator Harry Reid was in the State Wednesday in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol as his colleagues and friends gathered to pay their respects to a hard-line Democrat who rose from poverty in a dusty Nevada mining town to the most powerful position in the US Senate.
The casket carrying Reid arrived on Capitol Hill as Senators and others began entering the Capitol Rotunda for a ceremony closed to the public under COVID-19 protocols. Reid died last month at age 82 after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
The longest-serving Nevadan in Congress and the Senate majority leader alongside two presidents, Reid led the chamber in one of its most extensive legislative sessions – securing the economic stimulus bill for the Great Recession and President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare law.
President Joe Biden called Reid a “great American,” one who “looked at the challenges of the world and believed that it was in our capacity to do good, to do good.”
Democratic leaders, President Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, are among those expected to speak at the tribute.
At a funeral service last weekend in Las Vegas, Biden, Obama and others recalled one of Reid’s best-known traits – abruptly hanging up on people, even presidents, rather than ending with long farewells.
The few words Reid said were often flint and flaming, the senator unafraid to confront presidents (he called George W. Bush a “loser”), to criticize the fossil fuel industry (” coal makes us sick ”) or to declare war on Iraq“ lost ”. He titled his 2008 autobiography “The Good Fight”.
Influential in retirement, Reid said Biden should only give his new presidency three weeks to try and work with Republicans. Otherwise, Biden would have to force changes to Senate obstruction rules to allow simple majority passage of election and voting rights legislation and other priorities, Reid said.
“The time will come when he has to move in and get rid of the obstruction,” Reid told The Associated Press.
Reid was born in the desolate mining town of Searchlight, Nevada, his father a hard-rock miner who later committed suicide, his mother doing laundry at home for brothels. (He and other kids were swimming in a brothel pool.) Searchlight was a place, he said, that “had seen better days.”
The city had no churches, his family no religion. But a photo of President Franklin D. Roosevelt hanging in the Reids’ house would influence his political career.
Reid hitchhiked about 40 miles to high school and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as he progressed through college and law school. An amateur boxer, he once punched his future father-in-law after being refused a date with Landra Gould, who would become his wife. They were married for 62 years.
First elected to the House in 1982 and re-elected in 1984, Reid then served 30 years in the Senate, including a decade as Democratic Leader of the Senate.
Along the way, Reid rewrote the map of Nevada by expanding public lands, shutting down the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project outside of Las Vegas; and obtain the status of a national monument around the installation “City” by artist Michael Heizer in the desert. He quietly secured federal funding for UFO research.
A man of few words, Reid often wrote notes instead – to his family, colleagues and a Nevada student advocate who had reached out to changes in immigration law. He has championed the Dream Act and Obama’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals to protect young immigrants to the United States without legal status from deportation.
As his power grew, Reid crafted a Democratic legacy for his state with Nevada’s first presidential caucus. He left behind a state apparatus that was sometimes referred to as the “Reid machine” for its enduring political power seeking to elect the next generation of Democratic leaders.
After suffering a workout accident at home and with Democrats returning to the Senate minority, Reid announced he would not be running for re-election in 2016.
In his farewell speech in the Senate, he admitted to doing things that “probably a lot of people would not do.” But he passed his advice on to those wondering how he got from Searchlight to Washington.
“I didn’t do it because of my good looks. I didn’t do it because I’m a genius. I did it because I worked hard,” Reid said. “No matter what you want to try to do, make sure you work as hard as you can to try and do what you want to do.