LAS VEGAS – Former President Barack Obama remembered the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Saturday as a man “who worked,” as Democratic leaders gathered from across the country to remember Reid – often Laughing – As a man whose impatience for pleasantness was part of a campaign to improve the lives of ordinary Americans.
Voting at Reed’s Las Vegas Memorial Service testified to Reid’s influence on some of the most consequential laws of the 21st century, despite coming from a childhood of poverty and deprivation in Nevada. President Joe Biden escorted Reid’s widow, Landra Reid, to her seat at the start of services, before an honor guard carried a flag-wrapped coffin to the well of a quiet auditorium.
Reed died on December 28 at home in Henderson, Nevada, of 82 complications from pancreatic cancer.
“Let there be no doubt. Harry Reid will be considered one of the greatest Senate majority leaders in history,” Biden said, as leaders focused on strengthening health care and Wall Street reform and economic recovery in the wake of the 2008 recession. Credit to Reed’s work.
Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who described Reid as a “really honest and original character” to mourners, spoke during an invitation-only memorial. Former President Barack Obama, who credited Reid for his rise to the White House, offered praise.
Obama said that when Reid helped pass the Affordable Care Act, “he didn’t do it to burn his legacy,” recalling how as a boy Reid’s family was so poor that Reed himself Took out one of his father’s teeth.
“He did it for people back home and families like himself who needed someone looking for something when no one else did. Harry got the job done,” Obama said.
“The thing about Harry, he never gave up. He never gave up. He never gave up on anyone who cared about him,” said Biden, who served for two decades with Reed in the Senate and worked with him for eight years when Biden was vice president.
“If Harry said he was going to do something, he did,” Biden said. “You can bank on it.”
Reid’s son, Leif, was one of a series of speakers who recalled his father’s famous habit of having a sudden telephone conversation without saying goodbye, sometimes leaving the other person at bay—whether powerful politicians or close family – talking several minutes ago he realized he was no longer there.
Leif Reid said it was “part of the narrative” of his father’s life, and tried to explain that the gesture was more about Reed saving time for the family.
“When he hung up on you, maybe so soon, it’s not about him as much as he is devoted to my mom,” said Leif Reed.
“I probably hung out by Harry Reid two or three times a day, at most, for 12 years,” Pelosi told mourners.
“Sometimes I even called him back and said to Harry, ‘I was singing your praises,'” Pelosi said. To which Reid replied: “I don’t want to hear it,” she said, before she could hear the phone dead clicking.
Reid served for 34 years in Washington and led the Senate through a severe recession and Republican takeover of the House following the 2010 elections.
Harry Mason Reed covered 40 miles (64 kilometers) in high school and was an amateur boxer before being elected to the Nevada State Legislature at the age of 28. He had graduated from Utah State University and worked nights as a US Capitol police officer while attending George. Washington University Law School in Washington.
In 1970, at age 30, he was elected lieutenant governor of the state along with Democratic Governor Mike O’Callaghan. Reid was elected to the House in 1982 and to the Senate in 1986.
He built a political machine in Nevada that helped Democrats win important elections for years. When he retired in 2016 after an exercise accident at home that blinded one of his eyes, he selected former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to replace him.
Cortez Masto became the first lady of Nevada and the first Latina elected to the US Senate.
The flight to Las Vegas will arrive at the newly designated Harry Reid International Airport. It was previously named after Pat McCarran, a former Democratic US Senator from Nevada who once owned the airfield and whose legacy is steeped in racism and anti-Semitism.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.