LAS VEGAS (FOX5) — The late Harry Reid’s political peers highlighted his legacy on Saturday at a memorial service at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas, where top Washington officials including President Joe Biden bid farewell to the former Democratic Senate leader.
Reid was Nevada’s longest-serving member of congress, and it’s that same endurance and tenacity that his political colleagues expressed admiration for in spades at Saturday’s service.
“When Harry said he was gonna do something, he did it,” recalled President Biden on Saturday.
Reid died Dec. 28 at the age of 82 after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer. As his colleagues described him, he was a “champion for the little guy,” with a lasting vision for politics and the people of Nevada.
“That’s how he helped us reign in Wall Street, the excesses, and repeal ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,'” said Biden. “That’s how he created Nevada’s first national park, conserved Lake Tahoe. That’s how he always championed Native Americans with tribal communities.”
His Washington colleagues also mentioned how he worked to keep nuclear waste out of Nevada, passed the Recovery Act, and helped provide “affordable healthcare to millions.”
This, despite a tremendously tough upbringing in Searchlight, Nevada, and a career that required clearing some high hurdles.
Former president Barack Obama gave one example in his eulogy.
“He liked to talk about his boxing. ‘Ya know Barack? I wasn’t a great athlete — wasn’t big and strong like some of the guys I went up against. I had two things going for me: I could take a punch, and I never gave up,'” said Obama. “That’s about right. That same dogged determination marked Harry Reid’s political career. Lost his first senate race by just 600 votes. Six months later, he ran for mayor of this town and lost in a landslide. But Harry did not give up.”
That dogged nature he mentioned ultimately led Reid to become the Senate Majority Leader and one of the Obama-era Democratic party’s premier political strategists.
“Whenever I would object to a change he wanted to make,” said Obama, “whether because of some policy concerns or worries about the optics, Harry would tell me, with some exasperation in his voice, ‘Mr. President, you know a lot more than I do about healthcare policy, okay? But I know the Senate.’ And he was right. He did know the Senate, better than just about anyone else.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer echoed that sentiment.
“In so many ways, Harry was a guardian and steward of the senate,” said Schumer.
In her speech, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointed out Reid’s humble and giving nature.
“I even said to him, when he was announcing his retirement, ‘I wanna have a big dinner, invite all of your friends that you served with in the past, in the House, in the Senate, and the rest.’ ‘I don’t want to do it.’ ‘But I want for them to sing your praises.’ ‘I don’t want to do it. Save the money. Feed the poor,'” said Pelosi, inciting a laugh from the audience.
Congresswoman Susie Lee, D-Nevada, also attended the ceremony, telling FOX5 outside of the venue that Reid’s impact still can be felt, and still is working.
“His impact — it’s not gone. There are thousands of staffers in our state and in Washington who have evolved through his office, and they are — they’re still there,” said Lee. “They’re on Capitol Hill. They work for advocacy organizations. And so his impact will be here for a long time to come.”
The leaders of Congress announced last week that Reid will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 12.