‘Legendary leader’ Hary Reid lies in state
WASHINGTON — The late Sen. Harry Reid was remembered Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol as a “legendary leader,” a hardscrabble Democrat who rose from poverty in a dusty Nevada mining town to deliver landmark legislation from the chamber’s most powerful position.
President Joe Biden, who has called Reid a “great American,” paid silent tribute, stopping by briefly as Reid lay in state at the Capitol Rotunda. Biden made the sign of the cross and let his hand linger for a moment on the flag-draped casket.
Reid’s family and colleagues joined for an earlier ceremony that was almost as succinct as the senator’s own dry-humored style of hanging up the phone rather than engaging in lengthy goodbyes. He was recalled as one of the Senate’s more significant, and memorable, leaders and a soft-spoken “force of thunder.“Reid, who had pancreatic cancer, died last month at age 82.
“Harry Reid made the world a better place,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“To see him lead and legislate was to see a master at work,” said Pelosi, who worked side by side with him when they were the top two Democrats in Congress. She called Reid “a legendary leader of great integrity.”
Reid served longer in Congress than anyone from his Battle Born state and was the Senate majority leader alongside two presidents. He led the Senate during one of its more consequential legislative sessions, securing the economic recovery bill during the Great Recession and President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke of having to explain Reid’s abrupt style to the new senators.
“Even though Harry talked softly, what he said carried the force of thunder,“Schumer said.
Schumer said Reid never forgot the struggles of families and places like the one he came from and believed government had a moral obligation to ensure Americans had opportunities to improve their lives.
“Few have shaped the workings of this building like our dear friend from Nevada,” he said. “Few have dedicated their lives to the work of the people quite like Harry did.”
The service was largely closed to the public under COVID-19 protocols, though former colleagues, staff and others steamed in to visit during the day and most wore masks. He was only the 15th senator to have had the honor; his casket rested on the catafalque used for Abraham Lincoln.
Vice President Kamala Harris did not speak during the ceremony, but paused at the casket in tribute, as did the Republican leaders in Congress, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. Later, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan stopped by.
Biden, Obama and others paid tribute during a funeral service last weekend in Las Vegas recalling Reid’s feisty wit, disinterest in Washington’s social scene and fearless approach to governing.
The few words Reid did say were often flinty and fiery. He was unafraid to take on presidents (he called George W. Bush a “loser”), criticize the fossil fuel industry (“coal makes us sick”) or declare the war in Iraq “lost.”
He titled his 2008 autobiography “The Good Fight.”
Influential in retirement, Reid said that Biden won election, he should give his new presidency just three weeks to try to work with Republicans. If not, Biden should force changes in the Senate’s filibuster rules to allow simple majority passage of elections and voting rights legislation and other priorities, Reid said.
“The time’s going to come when he’s going to have to move in and get rid of the filibuster,” Reid told The Associated Press.
With the Senate in difficult discussions this week on changes to the filibuster to push election and voting legislation past Republican objections, Schumer leaned on Reid’s legacy as a “steward of the Senate.”
“He also knew the Senate had to adapt to changing times,” Schumer said.