Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who rose from poverty in rural Nevada to the heights of Democratic politics, has died at the age of 82.
"I am heartbroken to announce the passing of my husband, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He died peacefully this afternoon, surrounded by our family, following a courageous, four-year battle with pancreatic cancer," Reid's wife, Landra Reid, said in a statement Tuesday.
Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days, she added.
Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid died peacefully "following a courageous, four-year battle with pancreatic cancer," per wife Landra pic.twitter.com/R9SzLI6twM— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) December 29, 2021
Reid as a young man earned money as a Golden Gloves boxer before seeking office and brought a fighter's touch to the political arena. Unafraid to verbally jab at presidents and Supreme Court justices, Reid in 2013 led a change in Senate rules aimed at making it easier for President Barack Obama's judicial nominees to be confirmed. But Reid's tactics were soon turned against his party. Republicans won control of the Senate in 2014, and two years later, Donald Trump captured the White House. Trump and Senate Republicans used the rules change to confirm scores of conservative-leaning judges, including three Supreme Court justices that Democrats tried unsuccessfully to block.
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Reid was a member of Congress for 34 years, winning a newly drawn House in Nevada as the state's population exploded. Four years later, in 1986, Reid won an open Senate seat, which he would hold for 30 years and make his name nationally.
Reid entered the Democratic leadership after the 1998 elections and ascended to his party's top post six years later. Within two years, he ascended to majority leader after the Democratic wave of 2006. He was Senate majority leader for eight years, one of only three figures with such a long tenure. He retained the top party post as minority leader after Republicans retook the Senate until his retirement in 2017.
A fall cut his career short in 2015. Reid was exercising in his bathroom at home when a resistance band broke, causing him to fall. He sued for the damages, but the case was rejected by the jury for lack of evidence.
A few years after the injury, Reid was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and confined to a desk at home. He announced, however, on Feb. 25, 2019, that his cancer was in remission.
Reid’s involvement in major legislation included the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Act, which rewrote rules of the financial services industry, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
During Reid's early years in the Senate, he showed some centrist and conservative inclinations. For years, Reid, a Mormon, favored the overturn of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision on abortion and opposed same-sex marriage. His views on these and other social issues shifted to the left during his later years in the Senate.
“Harry Reid was one of the most amazing individuals I have ever met," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Tuesday.
“He was tough-as-nails strong but caring and compassionate, and always went out of his way quietly to help people who needed help. He was a boxer who came from humble origins, but he never forgot where he came from and used those boxing instincts to fearlessly fight those who were hurting the poor and the middle class," Schumer, a New York Democrat, added.
“He was my leader, my mentor, one of my dearest friends. He’s gone but he will walk by the sides of many of us in the Senate every single day," said Schumer, a House member with Reid in the mid-1980s and then a Senate colleague for 18 years.
Reid's accomplishments in Washington were an unlikely route for the impoverished son of the West. Reid was born in the small mining town of Searchlight, Nevada, and attended Southern Utah University and graduated from Utah State University before earning his law degree from George Washington University Law School.
Reid's career took off quickly, as his family grew to five children. He began serving as a city attorney before being elected to the Nevada Assembly in 1968. Two years later, he won his bid for lieutenant governor of Nevada.
But his political career stalled four years later when he ran for the U.S. Senate. He lost to former Republican Gov. Paul Laxalt by fewer than 700 votes. The next year, he ran for mayor of Las Vegas and lost again.
Reid found a measure of political redemption in the late 1970s while serving on the Nevada Gaming Commission. Known for his probity and commitment to the letter of the law, Reid at times was targeted by organized crime players who had a foothold in the Nevada gaming industry.
After winning election to the House and then the Senate, Reid climbed the party's leadership ranks. The longer he served, the more open and unfiltered he became. He called President George W. Bush a liar numerous times to the press. In 2004, he said Justice Clarence Thomas was an "embarrassment" to the Supreme Court.
Out of office, Reid told the New York Times Magazine in January 2019 that then-President Trump was “the worst president we’ve ever had.”
“Former Sen. Harry Reid (he got thrown out) is working hard to put a good spin on his failed career,” Trump tweeted in response.
In his final speech as a U.S. senator in 2016, Reid said, “I didn’t make it in life because of my athletic prowess. I didn’t make it because of my good looks. I didn’t make it because I’m a genius. I made it because I worked hard.”
The former majority leader wrote an autobiography published in 2008 titled The Good Fight: Hard Lessons from Searchlight to Washington.
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Reid was a boxer in high school, and, according to his book, planned on boxing in college until his high school counselor told him he should be a lawyer.
“People in Nevada know me from the street to the ring to the Senate chambers,” Reid said on NBC News in 2010. “I’ve never had to prove my manhood to anyone.”
In his book, Reid said, “I am immensely proud of my hometown and of my home state. And I am equally proud of the work I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of doing in Washington, D.C., for the past 25 years.”
Reid is survived by his wife; his four sons, Rory Reid, Leif Reid, Key Reid, and Josh Reid; and his daughter, Lana Reid.
Daniel Chaitin contributed to this report.