Messages of remembrance poured in on Tuesday after former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid died at 82 after a years-long battle with cancer.
Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, entered politics as an outsider who grew up in extreme poverty and rose to become one of the most powerful figures in the party. He served as Nevada’s U.S. senator from 1987 to 2017, leading the Democratic National Caucus from 2005 until his retirement.
“Senator Harry Reid was a true lion of the Senate. He was as tough as they come. A great man, and a great leader,” DNC chair Jaime Harrison (D-S.C.) said in a statement. “While we lost an American icon, his memory will not be forgotten ― and my hope is that we can strive to emulate his leadership and follow in his footsteps to create a better country for all.”
Reid was also the Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015 before becoming minority leader when Republicans gained control of the chamber. As leader, he helped usher in major legislation including the Affordable Care Act ― something that seemed impossible to cobble together enough votes for if it hadn’t been for Reid.
“The nature of Harry’s and my jobs brought us into frequent and sometimes intense conflict over politics and policy. But I never doubted that Harry was always doing what he earnestly, deeply felt was right for Nevada and our country,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement.
“When Harry retired from the Senate, we both celebrated the fact that our many differences had never really gotten personal. Harry’s and my paths in the Senate were roughly parallel,” McConnell added. “We seemed to reach each institutional milestone within just a few years of each other. I truly appreciated the sincere and cordial relationship we shared behind the scenes when passions cooled.”
Barack Obama, who was president while Reid was Senate majority leader, said Tuesday that Landra Reid asked those who were close to her husband to share letters that she could read to him in his last days. Obama released his letter in lieu of a statement:
“I got the news that the health situation has taken a rough turn, and that it’s hard to talk on the phone. Which, let’s face it, is not that big of a change cause you never liked to talk on the phone anyway!” Obama wrote.
“Here’s what I want you to know. You were a great leader in the Senate, and early on you were more generous to me than I had any right to expect. I wouldn’t have been president had it not been for your encouragement and support, and I wouldn’t have got most of what I got done without your skill and determination,” he continued. “Most of all, you’ve been a good friend. As different as we are, I think we both saw something of ourselves in each other ― a couple of outsiders who had defied the odds and knew how to take a punch and cared about the little guy. And you know what, we made for a pretty good team.
“Enjoy your family, and know you are loved by a lot of people, including me. The world is better cause of what you’ve done. Not bad for a skinny, poor kid from Searchlight.”
President Joe Biden pointed out Reid’s early boxing career and the toughness it lent to his politics:
Tributes came from both sides of the aisle and spanned the generations with which he served and later mentored.