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Biden, Obama honor former Sen. Harry Reid at Las Vegas memorial

LAS VEGAS – President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats on Saturday remembered Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as a giant in American politics, who through grit, plain-spokenness and pragmatism got big things done.

Reid, a lion of the Senate for three decades, died late last month at the age of 82 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. For two and a half hours at the Smith Center in Las Vegas, friends and family honored a man who rose from humble beginnings in Searchlight, Nevada, to become one of the most powerful Democrats in Washington. 

“People in Nevada, you lost a beloved son, but his spirit’s always going to burn as bright as the desert sun,” Biden said at Reid’s memorial service. “To the nation – we lost a giant American, plain-spoken, honorable, decent, brave, an unyielding man. May this be his legacy.”

‘Tough-as-nails strong’: Tributes pour in for Harry Reid, former U.S. senator, after his death

More: Former US Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, former Democratic majority leader, dies at 82

Reid, a onetime accomplished amateur boxer, was the longest-serving senator in Nevada’s history and presided over the upper chamber as majority leader from 2007 to 2015. He gained a reputation for soft-spoken ruthlessness as he clawed his way from Nevada’s lieutenant governor’s office to the pinnacle of the U.S. Senate. 

Biden, a former Senate colleague of Reid for 22 years, said “you wanted Harry in your corner,” crediting his leadership with pushing through some of the Obama administration’s greatest achievements while Biden was vice president: helping to rein in Wall Street, preserve Social Security and pass environmental protections for Nevada.

“The thing about Harry – he never gave up,” Biden said. “Let there be no doubt. Harry Reid will be considered one of the greatest Senate Majority leaders in history.”

More:Remembering the life of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Eulogizing Reid, Obama called his friend a “man of old-school virtues” – a rare politician who lacked pretentiousness, operated with “abiding loyalty” and a pragmatist who “knew how to get things done.” 

Obama served as president while Reid was Senate majority leader.

“You wanted Harry in the foxhole with you,” Obama said, adding that he will never be able to repay Reid for sticking with him even as some Democrats did not amid declining poll numbers.

If not for Reid, Obama said he would not have been able to pass the federal stimulus bill after the Great Recession, Wall Street reform, the Affordable Care Act and other legislation. 

“In a battle between perfection and progress, he always chose progress,” Obama said. “He didn’t shy away from bare-knuckle politics, but what is true is that I never heard Harry speak of politics as if it was some unbending battle between good and evil.”

Reid, stooped and bespectacled, was a pro-gun, pro-life Democrat and a devout Mormon. He lost his first bid for Senate in 1974, then a race for mayor of Las Vegas one year later. He became chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission and later a congressman before winning his first Senate race in 1986.

Although Reid was best known as a fierce fighter, Obama said Reid’s true uniqueness was being a pragmatist at time when Americans from across the political spectrum apply “purity tests to our politicians.”

“He didn’t believe in highfalutin theories or rigid ideologies. He thought most people make decisions based on their life experience, based on immediate needs and their families.”

Former US President Barack Obama speaks during a memorial service for the late US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also spoke at Reid’s funeral. Brandon Flowers, lead singer of The Killers, a rock band formed in Las Vegas, performed “Be still” and “Home means Nevada,” the state’s anthem. Singer Carole King performed “In the Name of Love.”

Schumer, D-N.Y., who considered Reid a mentor in the Senate, said “beneath Harry’s soft-spoken nature was a truly honest and original character.”

“Harry, in short, is one of the most incredible individuals I’ve ever met,” Schumer said, “the sort of person you come across only a handful of times in your entire life. He was tough as nails, a fighter to his core, but also one of the most compassionate individuals you could ever imagine.”

Reid is survived by his wife of 62 years, Landra Reid. Each of the couple’s five children spoke at the service, giving emotional tributes about a politician they knew as “Poppy.”

“He was pulled in so many different directions, but when he was home, he was just ‘Poppy,'” said Lana Reid Barringer, Reid’s only daughter. “He didn’t want to talk about work. He wanted to talk about us.

“Nobody loved me the way my dad loved me. He was a wonderful father who loved me unconditionally, and he always made my mom, me and my brothers his priority. I will miss him greatly. I will love him forever. And I’m grateful that families are forever.”

Reid’s body will be transported to Washington where he will lie in state at the Capitol on Jan. 12. 

Earlier: Live updates from the service 

Biden: ‘We lost a giant American’

President Joe Biden said Reid will go down as one of the greatest Senate majority leaders in U.S. history, praising his ability to listen, his decency and a track record of Democratic policies passed with his leadership.

“People in Nevada, you lost a beloved son but his spirit’s always going to burn as bright as the desert sun,” Biden said. “To the nation – we lost a giant American, plain spoken, honorable, decent, brave, unyielding man. May this be his legacy.

“Call on each of us to be our best, to speak truth from the heart, to take up the remains of Harry Reid’s good fight for the America we all love. What a gift.”

Biden said Reid’s story shows “there’s nothing ordinary about America,” comparing Reid’s humble upbringing in Nevada to Biden’s own in Delaware. “Ordinary Americans can do anything given half a chance. We the people – pretty damn extraordinary.”

Biden, a former Senate colleague of Reid, said you “wanted Harry in your corner,” crediting his leadership with pushing through some of the Obama administration’s greatest achievements: helping rein in Wall Street, preserve Social Security during the George W. Bush years and pass environmental protections for Nevada.

“The thing about Harry – he never gave up,” Biden said. “Let there be no doubt. Harry Reid will be considered one of the greatest Senate Majority leaders in United States history.”

Biden said Reid should be remembered most of all for how he approached politics.

“Like every great leader, he led the Democratic Caucus not just by speaking, but by listening,” Biden said. “For Harry, it wasn’t about power for the sake of power. It was about using power to do right by people. That’s why you wanted him to be in your corner.”

The service was capped by Brandon Flowers of The Killers singing “Home Means Nevada,” the state’s anthem.

– Joey Garrison

Obama on Reid: ‘He always chose progress’

Former President Barack Obama remembered Reid as a “man of old-school virtues” – a rare politician who lacked pretentiousness, operated with “abiding loyalty” and a pragmatist who “knew how to get things done.”

“In a battle between perfection and progress, he always chose progress,” Obama said in eulogizing Reid. “He didn’t shy away from bare-knuckle politics, but what is true is that I never heard Harry speak of politics as if it was some unbending battle between good and evil.”

Obama served as president while Reid was Senate majority leader. He said Reid was among Democrats convinced that Obama could be elected as the first African-American president.

“You wanted Harry in the foxhole with you,” Obama said, adding that Reid’s willingness to stick by his side even amid dipping poll numbers – “when some Democrats thought it might be prudent to maintain a healthy distance from me” – was a debt he couldn’t repay.

Although Reid was best known as a fighter, Obama said Reid was a pragmatist at time when many Americans apply “purity tests to our politicians.”

“He didn’t believe in highfalutin theories or rigid ideologies. He thought most people make decisions based on their life experience, based on immediate needs and their families.”

If not for Reid, Obama said he would not have been able to pass the federal stimulus bill after the Great Recession, Wall Street reform or the Affordable Care Act

“The whole point of wielding power was to actually get things done on behalf of those you represent,” Obama said of Reid’s political philosophy. “During his time as leader that is exactly what he did. He got things done.”

– Joey Garrison

‘He was beloved,’ Pelosi says of Reid’s ‘most enduring legacy’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remembered Reid’s modesty, dry sense of humor and as a rare politician beloved by members of both political parties.

“For all his great legislative achievements, his most enduring public legacy will be that he was beloved,” Pelosi said. “A word not often used to describe political leaders.”

She said Reid always made sure his home state of Nevada was getting served.

“He did everything he could to ensure that his voices were heard, either protecting the state’s natural environment or its political environment, especially its coveted role in the presidential selection process,” Pelosi said.

She also joked about Reid’s bluntness, saying she probably got hung up on the phone by him more than anyone else in Washington.

“Two or three times a day for 12 years,” Pelosi said, drawing laughter. “That is official working days – sometimes Saturday and Sunday.”

After Pelosi spoke, musical artist Carole King performed “In the Name of Love.”

– Joey Garrison

Schumer: Reid was ‘tough as nails’ but compassionate

Senate Majority Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who considered Reid a mentor in the Senate, said “beneath Harry’s soft-spoken nature was a truly honest and original character.”

“He was one of a kind,” Schumer said. “All of us being here is proof of the wide and deep impact that Harry had.”

“Harry, in short, is one of the most incredible individuals I’ve ever met, the sort of person you come across only a handful of times in your entire life. He was tough as nails, a fighter to his core, but also one of the most compassionate individuals, you could ever imagine.”

Schumer said he got to know Reid in 1999, shortly after winning his Senate seat for the first time. He laughed about Reid telling him that he needed to “buy some better shoes” to earn leadership.

“He cared about you with every fiber. Sometimes you can even say cared a little too much.”

He recalled in 2006, when Sen. Claire McCaskill’s victory in Missouri gave Democrats control of the Senate. Reid and Schumer watched election returns with each other.

“I kid you not, Harry went up to the TV screen and smacked his lips on hers,” Schumer said, laughing. “His lips remain attached on the TV for a full 10 seconds.”

– Joey Garrison

Reid brought ‘devotion and steadfastness’ to everything, son says

Leif Reid, one of Harry Reid’s five children who spoke at the service, said the best way to describe Reid is “devotion and steadfastness in everything he did.”

“People know his story. He lived the American dream from Searchlight to Washington,” he said.

Leif Reid added: “But the reality was he was a man who simply chose to do his best every day, to do his duty, to take care of his stewardship. Part of that work was to be our father. Part of that work was to be my mother’s soulmate. Part of that work was to be your senator.”

– Joey Garrison

‘Proud of the name Harry Reid’

Josh Reid, another of Reid’s five children, said his father always told his kids how much he loved them.

“He would often tell me when I had my own kids that you can never tell your family that you love them too much,” Josh Reid said.

Josh Reid said his son’s wife gave birth to a child on Friday. The name they chose: Harry Reid.

“I hope as the years go by, that little boy will look at his grandfather in the same way I looked at my dad. I’m proud of the name Harry Reid.”

Brandon Flowers of the rock band The Killers then performed the song “Be Still.”

Leif Reid, one of Reid’s sons, said it was his father’s final song request before his death.

– Joey Garrison

More:With Western grit, Sen. Harry Reid left lasting mark on Nevada, nation

‘When he was home, he was just Poppy’

Lana Reid Barringer, Reid’s daughter, remembered her father as a family man who always found time for his children and grandchildren no matter what was going on in Washington.

“He was pulled in so many different directions, but when he was home, he was just Poppy. He didn’t want to talk about work. He wanted to talk about us,” she said.

Reid Barringer said her father made people laugh no matter the setting. She said he frequently took his children to get ice cream, and always let them pick the flavor, and recalled the time he took her to see The Osmonds.

About 20 years ago, Reid and his wife, Landra Gould Reid, temporarily moved into Lana’s home as they were downsizing houses. The senator and his wife were forced to share his children’s old trundle bed.

“Before his security detail picked him up to take him to the Capitol, I bet he was the only senator who had to navigate Legos and PlayMobil,” Reid Barringer said.

She concluded: “Nobody loved me the way my dad loved me. He was a wonderful father who loved me unconditionally, and he always made my mom, me and my brothers his priority. I will miss him greatly. I will love him forever. And I’m grateful that families are forever.”

– Joey Garrison

Friends, protesters, supporters gather before the service

Sen. Harry Reid’s memorial service drew presidents Joe Biden and Barack Obama, those who knew the former Senate majority leader and a smattering of Trump supporters who hate Democrats and vaccine mandates.

Hannah Brown, 82, of Las Vegas came to pay respects to the man she went to kindergarten with who remained a lifelong friend. 

“I grew up with him and worked with his campaigns many, many times,” she said with tears in her eyes. “What people don’t know is if he was your friend, he was your friend.”

Brown, a civil rights activist, recalled that Reid spoke in October at the dedication of an elementary school renamed after her. 

“He called me his forever friend,” she said as she showed a reporter a picture of Reid embracing her. 

Others were less than thrilled to have the Democratic luminaries in their city. 

About a dozen people outside the Smith Center for the Performing Arts waved flags supporting former President Donald Trump and held anti-Biden signs. They shouted vulgar messages against the current president and other messages that had little to do with Reid. 

Lorena Cardenas, 42, of Las Vegas was the only one among them willing to discuss their anger. 

“Democrats have suppressed freedom,” she said. Cardenas blamed Biden for rushing vaccines for children that she thinks — contrary to medical experts — will harm their health. 

“This is about Democrats more broadly but Harry Reid facilitated Biden’s win so that was a slap to our face,” she said.

– Ronald J. Hansen, The Arizona Republic

People watch as the flag-draped casket of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid arrives a memorial service at the Smith Center in Las Vegas, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.

‘Ultimate champion of the little guy’

Pallbearers brought Reid’s casket, draped in an American flag, to the front of the room as the service got underway.

“We are here today to give gratitude for the man from Searchlight, Nevada. Shaped by a humble upbringing, Harry Reid rose to the become the ultimate champion of the little guy,” said Marcus Faust, a friend of Reid, kicking off the services.

Among those speaking are President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Carole King will perform the song, “In the name of Love.”

– Joey Garrison

Biden, mourners arrive for service

A string trio played the hymn “Lord of the Dance” followed by “Amazing Grace” as friends and family arrived for services of the late former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., at the Smith Center in Las Vegas.

The strings played beneath a screen that displayed tweets paying tribute to Reid as a masked crowd began to fill into the seats. 

President Joe Biden, traveling via motorcade, arrived at 1:45 p.m. EST. Services are expected to begin at 2 p.m. EST.

– Joey Garrison

Contributing: James DeHaven, Associated Press

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