Reid, the scrappy former Democratic Senate leader who spearheaded epic legislative battles throughout three decades in Congress, died in December at age 82 following a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
His service honored his love of family, with all five of the late senator’s children speaking; his love of Nevada, the state he helped put on the political map during his decades in office; and the central role he played in ushering in some of the most significant pieces of legislation of the last two decades.
Obama cast Reid as the consummate pragmatist, someone willing to work “with folks he didn’t agree with or particularly like” in order to get things done. At a time when “so often compromise is portrayed as weakness, Harry had a different view,” Obama said, recalling how the former Democratic leader “did not believe in highfalutin theories or rigid ideologies” and “met people where they were, not where he wanted them to be.“
“You wanted Harry in the foxhole with you. His willingness to fight by my side, to stick with me even when things weren’t going our way… his willingness to be there and fight would last throughout my presidency. It is a debt to him that I could never fully repay,” Obama said.
The words from Obama served as a timely message to Democrats in Congress, with progressive and moderate lawmakers quarreling over Biden’s agenda and dividing the party.
Throughout the service, those closest to Reid paid tribute to his unlikely life. A child born into abject poverty in a tiny speck of a town called Searchlight, he went on to become the most powerful politician in Nevada history, helping to turn the Western state into a Democratic stronghold that last backed a Republican president in 2004. The upbringing defined Reid’s career, turning him into a champion of the impoverished working-class families like he grew up with in the Nevada desert.
Biden remembered Reid as someone whose “toughness was distinctly Nevadan” and whose “story was unmistakably American.”
“It was all Searchlight — no spotlight,” Biden said, adding later, “Harry Reid will be considered one of the greatest Senate majority leaders in history. … For Harry, it wasn’t about power; it was about the sake of power. It was about the power to be able to use power to do right by people. That’s why you wanted Harry in your corner.”
The memorial service unfolded on a picture-perfect day in the Las Vegas valley, with Reid’s flag-draped coffin carried in by an honor guard under a cloudless blue morning sky. His 19 grandchildren served as honorary pallbearers.
“People know his story. He lived the American Dream, you could say — from Searchlight to Washington,” his son Leif Reid said. “From my time as a young boy, it even then seemed fictional. But the reality was that he was a man who simply chose to do his best every day, to do his duty, to take care of his stewardship.”
A giant electronic billboard towering over the Las Vegas Strip paid honor to Reid with the message: “Nevada Born. Nevada Leader.”
Reid, a practicing Mormon who neither drank nor gambled, was a pioneer of the city that transformed during his time in office. A fierce partisan, for sure, but Reid also had close…