Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies

Former Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say change to filibuster just a matter of time The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Biden hits one-year mark in dire straits MORE (Nev.), one of the Senate’s longest-serving majority leaders and a Democrat who played a central role in enacting former President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWhat does the Preamble to the Constitution have to do with Build Back Better? White House underscores action amid violent crime streak Biden frustration with Fox News breaks through surface MORE’s biggest legislative accomplishments, died Tuesday at 82 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. 

The death was announced by longtime political reporter Jon Ralston, who called Reid "probably the most important elected official in Nevada history."

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“During the two decades we served together in the United States Senate, and the eight years we worked together while I served as Vice President, Harry met the marker for what I’ve always believed is the most important thing by which you can measure a person — their action and their word,” President BidenJoe BidenDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors On The Money — Vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses nixed Warner tests positive for breakthrough COVID-19 case MORE said in a statement.

“If Harry said he would do something, he did it. If he gave you his word, you could bank on it. That’s how he got things done for the good of the country for decades.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerVoting rights failed in the Senate — where do we go from here? Forced deadline spurs drastic tactic in Congress Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that "Harry Reid was one of the most amazing individuals I've ever met," adding, "He was my leader, my mentor, one of my dearest friends."

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Reid served as majority leader from 2006 to 2014 before retiring from politics in 2017 as one of the most influential and powerful Democratic leaders ever to serve in Washington.

He was elected Senate Democratic whip in 1998 and Senate Democratic leader in 2004, and became majority leader when Democrats took over the House and Senate at the height of public frustration with the Iraq War. 

Reid, whose service as majority leader was surpassed only by former Sens. Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) and Alben Barkley (D-Ky.), was not afraid to engage in open partisan warfare on the Senate floor, making him one of the chamber’s most divisive leaders in history. 

He famously called George W. Bush, the sitting president, a “liar” and a “loser” and accused Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOfficer who directed rioters away from senators says Jan. 6 could have been a 'bloodbath' Ukraine's 'Back to the Future' scenario: Deploying troops is a Cold War solution Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE, the GOP’s nominee for president in 2012, on the Senate floor of not paying his taxes. 

He later apologized for calling Bush a loser but stuck by calling him a liar and never apologized for painting Romney as a tax cheat, even though PolitiFact rated the claim “Pants on Fire.”

Reid’s response was classic Reid. Terse and to the point. 

“Romney didn’t win, did he?” he told CNN’s Dana BashDana BashNYC mayor says he will reinstitute modified plainclothes police anti-gun unit Sanders says Biden can't count on him to support 'almost any' spending package compromise Sanders says Republicans are 'laughing all the way to Election Day' MORE when asked whether he had any regrets. 

Reid’s dogged effort to unify all 60 members of the Democratic caucus to pass the Affordable Care Act in 2009, the largest entitlement program passed since Medicare, ranks as the biggest legislative accomplishment of recent history. 

To win over former Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a pivotal moderate, Reid agreed to have the federal government pay Nebraska’s share of the cost for expanding Medicaid, a deal that critics called the Cornhusker Kickback, and was later dropped. 

Reid proclaimed it as victory that “affirmed the ability to live a healthy life in our great country is a right and not merely a privilege for the select few” and dedicated it to his friend Ted Kennedy, who had recently died.  

His other signature victories were the passage of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the depth of the Great Recession and, as the nation was beginning to recover, the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, which sought to rein in excesses that had nearly collapsed world financial markets. 

Reid’s aggressive political style often evoked allusions to his record as an amateur boxer.

His breakthrough in politics came in 1970 when his mentor and high-school boxing coach Mike O’Callaghan, who went on to become a successful politician and run for governor, asked him to serve as his running mate.  

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In a Tuesday statement, Nevada Gov. Steve SisolakSteve SisolakLas Vegas offering teachers up to K bonus to remain at work amid COVID-19 surge Seven most vulnerable governors facing reelection in 2022 Eleven interesting races to watch in 2022 MORE (D) said he was "heartbroken by the news" of Reid's passing.

"To say Harry Reid was a giant doesn’t fully encapsulate all that he accomplished on behalf of the state of Nevada and for Nevada families; there will never be another leader quite like Senator Reid," Sisolak said.

Landra Reid, the senator's wife of 62 years, said that he "died peacefully this afternoon, surrounded by our family, following a courageous, four-year battle with pancreatic cancer."

"We greatly appreciate the outpouring of support from so many over these past few years. We are especially grateful for the doctors and nurses that cared for him," she said.

Reid’s life was a modern-day Horatio Alger story.

He grew up in Searchlight, Nev., an isolated mining town, where he learned to swim at the indoor pool of the local bordello and lived in a shack made of railroad ties soaked in creosote to keep the termites out. 

When he left the Senate, his net worth was estimated in the millions of dollars.

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He also left a political dynasty behind. His son Rory served as Clark County commissioner and ran for governor in 2010. 

Reid worked in the Capitol as a police officer to pay for his studies at George Washington University’s law school, served four years as a member of the House and 30 years in the Senate. 

He was elected the state’s lieutenant governor at age 31.  

Reid was known in the Senate for hating to gab on the phone and often hung up on colleagues without saying goodbye, sometimes leaving them to talk at length to themselves. 

He made up for it, however, by being a diligent student about what his colleagues needed and often delivered by putting in hours of legwork. 

“I was always willing to do things that others were not willing to do,” he told The New York Times in a 2019 interview. 

Democrats celebrated Reid’s career during his final month in office with a star-studded farewell tribute in the Russell Building’s Kennedy Caucus Room, where President Biden praised him as a “man of your word” and declared that no majority leader in his memory had “a tougher job at a tougher time.”

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Many Republicans, however, were happy to see Reid go. 

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHow Cruz Supreme Court case could lead to unlimited anonymous election spending Trump and Biden should stop denigrating US elections The Armageddon elections to come MORE (Ky.) angrily predicted in 2013 that Reid would be remembered as “the worst leader of the Senate ever” if he went ahead with a controversial rules change known as the nuclear option to make it easier to confirm Obama’s appellate court picks. 

Undeterred, Reid went ahead with the unilateral procedural move in November of that year, lowering the bar for confirming executive branch and judicial nominees below the level of Supreme Court. 

Breaking the Republican filibuster allowed Obama to fill three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the second most powerful court in the nation, and swing its majority to the left. 

Reid later told The Hill in an interview that he kept the 60-vote hurdle for the Supreme Court out of deference to former Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerBass raises nearly million since launching LA mayor campaign Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies Congress can prevent another Jan. 6 by updating a key elections law MORE (D-Calif.), an outspoken defender of women’s reproductive rights. Boxer, however, said in a follow-up interview that she did not remember any special arrangement with her leader.

Reid was also known during his tenure for keeping a tight grip on the Senate floor, protecting his vulnerable Democratic colleagues from taking tough votes by routinely filling the Senate’s amendment tree. But his tight leash on floor activity chafed colleagues in both parties who found it difficult to get their business considered in the chamber. 

Former Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter Begich11 former Democratic senators call for 'meaningful reform to Senate rules' Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies Alaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch MORE (D), a first-term senator from Alaska, came under criticism shortly before his reelection when it became known that he never received a roll-call vote on an amendment during his first 5 1/2 years in the Senate. 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBiden to meet with CEOs to discuss Build Back Better agenda Hoyer says 'significant' version of Build Back Better will pass this year Gallego went to New York to meet Sinema donors amid talk of primary challenge: report MORE (D-W.Va.) complained in June of 2014, a few months before Democrats lost their Senate majority, that he had “never been in a less productive time in my life than I am right now, in the United States Senate.” 

Republicans promised that if they won back control, they would open up the floor to robust debate and frequent voting and while there had been some flashes of that, such as the immigration debate of February 2018, McConnell, during the six years he served as majority leader, largely followed Reid’s example of keeping tight control over the floor.  

"The nature of Harry’s and my jobs brought us into frequent and sometimes intense conflict over politics and policy," McConnell said in a Tuesday statement on Reid's death. "But I never doubted that Harry was always doing what he earnestly, deeply felt was right for Nevada and our country. He will rightly go down in history as a crucial, pivotal figure in the development and history of his beloved home state."

Reid’s politics evolved during his time in Washington, a reflection of his job representing the entire Democratic caucus, which for much of his career was significantly more liberal than his home state of Nevada. 

Early in his Senate career he said abortion should only be allowed in cases of rape or incest and voted against resolutions stating that Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights case, had been correctly decided. For his last year in office, he had a 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America. 

He also changed his views on the Second Amendment. He accepted money from the National Rifle Association in the early nineties and once described himself as supporting the gun-rights group as “right down the line.” 

Years later as majority leader he brought a gun-control package to the Senate floor in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that would have expanded background checks and banned military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. 

Yet while Reid’s politics changed, he kept a sharp focus on his constituents back in Nevada and invoked his home state frequently, especially in the final years of his career after surviving a tough reelection in 2010, the year of the Tea Party revolution. 

He made opposition to the nuclear waste repository in Yucca Mountain a signature issue and funneled back plenty of federal pork to Nevada as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee. 

Republicans thought they had an excellent chance to knock off Reid, who had a dismal 38 percent approval rating — compared to a 54 percent disapproval rating — at the start of the 2010 cycle. But Reid was helped by the changing demographics of the state, which Obama won in the 2008 election.

Reid dodged a bullet when Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle won the Republican primary. His political team pummeled her for calling a fund helping the victims of the Gulf oil spill a “slush fund” and saying that rape victims should make lemons into lemonade if they become impregnated. He ended up winning reelection by a comfortable margin.

Reid survived an earlier political scare in 1998 when he barely won reelection over Republican John Ensign after a recount put him ahead by only 401 votes out of more than 400,000 cast. 

Ensign went on to win election to the Senate in 2000 and Reid made an extra effort to cultivate a friendly and effective relationship with his home-state colleague. Reid’s goal was to both maximize what he could get done for Nevada but also undermine future GOP efforts to oust him from office. 

Reid employed the same strategy of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer with Brian Sandoval, the Republican who later served as Nevada’s governor. 

He recommended Sandoval to a federal judgeship in 2004, which kept the rising Republican star out of politics for four years until he quit the bench to reenter the fray and defeat Reid’s son Rory in the 2010 governor’s race. 

Reid was a devotee of exercise and sometimes joked about his deputy, Schumer, spending more time on his cellphone and cutting deals in the Senate gym instead of working out. 

He suffered a couple of injuries, however, that may have hastened his retirement. 

Reid once gave himself a black eye on a jog when he fell after his hand slipped off a parked car he was using to stabilize himself while stretching.

He endured a much more serious injury in 2015 when an elastic band he was using in the bathroom snapped, sending him reeling into some cabinets. The accident left him with broken ribs and partially blinded.  

Reid saw his time as leader was near an end after the 2014 midterm election when Republicans picked up nine seats and several centrists in his caucus, including Manchin and former Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillBiden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies On The Trail: Trump-inspired challengers target GOP governors MORE (D-Mo.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp11 former Democratic senators call for 'meaningful reform to Senate rules' Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies Virginia loss lays bare Democrats' struggle with rural voters MORE (D-N.D.), voted against him serving another term as Democratic leader. 

He tapped Schumer to succeed him in May of 2015, leapfrogging his longtime whip, Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinBipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law Democrats ask for information on specialized Border Patrol teams Democrats face scaled-back agenda after setbacks MORE (D-Ill.).

Earlier this month, in what he called “the greatest of honors,” a Las Vegas airport was renamed after Reid.

“For my whole life I’ve been coming and going from McCarran Airport, since the first time I ever got on a plane, back in 1958. This airport has been my gateway to the world,” he said in a statement.

“During my 35 years in Washington, I was here a lot. Home means Nevada, and for me, the airport long ago became synonymous with home,” he added.

Reid underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his pancreas in 2018, an operation that left him frail and needing a walker. 

In an interview in 2019, Reid told Times reporter Mark Leibovich with his trademark bluntness, “As soon as you discover you have something on your pancreas, you’re dead.” 

—Updated at 10:43 p.m.