The toughness of Harry Reid
© Greg Nash

When you think of the word "tough," you have to think of Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidVoters need to feel the benefit, not just hear the message Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama Mellman: Are independents really so independent? MORE (D-Nev.). He grew up dirt poor in Searchlight, Nev. His father was an alcoholic and killed himself. Reid became a boxer and pulled himself together to go to college at Southern Utah State. To get through law school at George Washington University, he worked as a Capitol Hill policeman at nights, graduating in 1964.

He returned to Nevada and got elected to the State Assembly at age 28. In 1970, he ran for lieutenant governor and won. But in 1974, he lost a race for U.S. Senate to Paul Laxalt (R). (President Reagan's best friend in the Senate.) Two years later, he was defeated again when he ran for mayor of Las Vegas.


But he came back. He won a race for the U.S. House in 1982. In 1986 he got elected to the U.S. Senate. In 2006, he reached the pinnacle of power when he became the Democratic majority leader.

Reid is not your typical politician. He doesn't mind ruffling feathers and publicly saying what he really thinks. No euphemisms or bland utterances about his political opponents or tactics. He did everything in his power to get his way. This method of operation made Republicans deeply disturbed and downright hostile. Reid didn't care.

Two examples come to mind. He got sick and tired of Republican attempts to hold up presidential nominations to the federal bench by filibuster. So he fought and rammed through a simple majority rule rather than the traditional 60 votes needed to stop debate and invoke cloture. This took guts, but the result is a vast improvement that both parties now have to live by.

Another Reid action never took place, but in my opinion, showed his essential strength and value. The move to get statehood for the District of Columbia has been a dream for the 650,000 residents of the nation's capital. We have no voting representation in the U.S. House or Senate. Statehood would grant total autonomy and sovereignty. Most of all, it would finally remove this blight on democracy.

I'll always remember the ceremony dedicating the Frederick Douglass statue at the Capitol Visitor Center (previously, D.C. had no such representation). Reid looked straight at House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and simply but powerfully said: "The citizens of D.C. deserve the very same rights as those citizens of Ohio and Kentucky."

Naturally, Boehner and McConnell sat stone-faced and looked straight ahead, totally without expression. Reid made it personal. He confronted these guys sitting on the stage and delighted in ruining their day and exposing their hypocrisy. Reid told me that when the statehood bill came out of committee, he "would make it happen." By that, he meant he would bring the bill to the floor of the U.S. Senate and put it to a vote.

I'm convinced that he would have rounded up the necessary votes and the bill would have passed. This would have been an historic first. This never occurred because Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the chair of the committee and original introducer of the bill, never moved his own bill in this committee.

More tragically, non-voting D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) refused to do her job. She never even contacted members of her own party — Democratic senators — and asked them to vote for the bill. Norton, as I have said before, is guilty of incumbent malfeasance. D.C. will never advance as long as she remains in office.

The sins of Carper and Norton should not diminish Reid's desire to make D.C. a state. He was ready to go. His personality — yes, ornery, strident and pugilistic — would have been a great asset in raising this issue to national visibility and prominence.

I wish Reid had not appointed Sen. Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerLawmakers take aim at 'Grinches' using bots to target consumers during holidays Democratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills Schumer mourns death of 'amazing' father MORE (D-N.Y.) as his successor. Suffice it to say that he is far too cozy with Wall Street and he seems motivated by ego rather than principle. I believe the nation will soon tire of his ravenous appetite for face time. As former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) so memorably said, "The most dangerous place to be in Washington is between Chuck Schumer and a television camera."

Either Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) or Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) would have been a far better choice. Or maybe from this group: Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) or Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

Schumer is not a statesman or a leader; he is an operator. I will miss Harry Reid. He was tough in the right way. He did not hold his punches. When it came to holding his party together in the Senate, he supremely succeeded.

Nowhere was this more apparent in making sure that every Democrat in 2009 voted "yes" on the Affordable Care Act. This was a magnificent accomplishment which gave health insurance to 30 million Americans who did not have it. For that itself — along with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the House — he will forever be remembered and should be appreciated.

Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.