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Harry Reid bids farewell to Senate after 30 years

WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid has probably never heard so many nice things said about him at one time.

Reid, the 77-year-old retiring Democratic minority leader, heard tributes from Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Reid’s successor as minority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in a ceremony for the unveiling of a portrait of Reid that will hang in the Capitol.

The mood bounced between poignant and humorous as speakers offered reminiscences of Reid’s five Senate terms and four years in the House.

Both Clinton and Schumer invoked the lyrics of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” in their tributes to Reid, a former amateur boxer who was coached in the ring by former Nevada Gov. Mike O’Callaghan.

“The important thing is not that you fight,” Schumer said in his tribute. “The important thing is who and what you fight for and Harry fought for people.”

Following the tributes, local artist Gavin Glakas — a former intern on Reid’s staff — unveiled the oil-on-canvas painting of Reid signing a document at a desk in a dark suit with a purple and blue tie.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who opened the program, joked about the pending suspense of how Reid would be portrayed in two dimensions.

“I’m sure you’re all curious what lies behind that curtain,” McConnell said. “Is it Harry sitting in his office? Is it Harry leaning on a cactus? Is it Harry high-fiving Bryce Harper? Well, we’ll find out soon enough just as soon as the vice president finishes his remarks.”

Dozens of congressmen, senators, staff members and Reid family members were among the nearly 300 people jammed inside the Russell Senate Office Building’s Kennedy Caucus Room for the 90-minute tribute.

Besides Reid, the biggest ovations and warmest welcomes went to Clinton, the unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate, who said it “isn’t exactly the speech at the Capitol that I was hoping to give after the election.”


 


“But after a few weeks of taking selfies in the woods, I thought it would be a good idea to come out,” she said.

“Today we are hanging Harry’s portrait here in the Capitol,” Clinton said. “But the more fitting portrait of him will be the one that goes in the dictionary next to the word ‘fighter’. Throughout his career, Harry’s fought the good fight on behalf of Nevadans and all Americans.”

Clinton said her favorite memory of Reid was when she accompanied him to hearings conducted on high leukemia rates that emerged in Fallon in 2001.

“We both shared a passion for health care and worried about so-called cancer clusters,” she said. “On that trip and on many occasions, I saw first-hand Harry’s deep commitment to the state and country he served so well.”

Biden also shared stories about Reid and paid tribute to his wife, Landra, who attended the unveiling.

“I love you, pal,” Biden said at the close of his remarks. “I know that embarasses you, but I do.”

 

Earlier Thursday, Reid bid farewell to the Senate after 30 years in the chamber and more than a decade as top Democrat, a remarkable run during which he shepherded key Obama administration legislation including the sweeping health care law.

In an uncharacteristically lengthy and personal farewell speech on the Senate floor, the gold miner’s son from tiny Searchlight, Nevada, reminisced about rising from a hardscrabble beginning to the heights of Capitol Hill and his “dream job” serving as President Barack Obama’s point man in Congress.

Reid’s mother took in laundry from the town’s brothels; his father shot and killed himself. Yet Reid said there was happiness in his childhood, even if he and his siblings’ games included tossing rocks at the tin siding on the latrine when his mother was inside.

He boasted of graduating in the top third of his elementary school class — of six — and of his proudest moment — buying his mother a new set of teeth.

Reid spoke of a high point in his Senate career — the first congressional term under Obama, when Democrats briefly commanded control of the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. That allowed them to push through a raft of legislation including the economic stimulus, the health care bill and a financial overhaul.

Reid declared it the most productive legislative session in history. “We worked so hard. We delivered big-time,” he recollected.

Reid brought home major benefits to Nevada, funding countless projects, blocking a nuclear waste dump and helping protect many thousands of acres of wilderness. Thanks to Reid, Nevada was a bright spot in Democrats’ electoral wipe-out last month. Clinton won the state, and Reid ensured a Democratic successor, Catherine Cortez Masto, who will be the first Latina senator.

Reid talked about doing battle with coal companies trying to expand operations in Nevada, and in a line that could sum up many of his encounters, he said: “They tried. I won. They lost.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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