Updated January 12, 2022 - 5:29 pm
WASHINGTON – Former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid returned to the Capitol for the last time Wednesday, cementing his legacy in national history.
President Joe Biden made an unannounced visit to the Capitol Rotunda to pay his last respects to Reid, a former Senate majority leader and the first Nevadan to lie in state in honor of his service.
Earlier, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., paid tribute to Reid in a ceremony as his flag-draped casket was surrounded by senators, members of Congress, military and family.
Pelosi noted Reid’s legislative and humanitarian accomplishments in his 34 years in the House and Senate.
“Harry Reid made the world a better place,” Pelosi told about a hundred well wishers who attended the invitation-only ceremony in the Rotunda
Reid died on Dec. 28 at home following a yearslong battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 82.
Pelosi recalled her long-time friendship with Reid, along with the battles they fought together as Democratic leaders.
A kid from dust-blown Searchlight, a Nevada mining town of brothels, Reid later became an amateur boxer who punched above his weight to the most powerful job in the Senate,.
“He was tough and relentless,” Pelosi said of Reid. “He conquered the impossible.”
Using his muscle
As majority leader, Reid used his political muscle to expand health care coverage, provide an economic stimulus during the Great Recession and stop a permanent nuclear waste repository in his home state.
“Few have dedicated their lives to the work of the people, quite like Harry did,” Schumer said.
Reid did not seek reelection in 2016, citing his health.
On a freezing morning Wednesday, his casket was carried by a military honor guard up the East Steps to the Capitol Rotunda.
It was placed on the Lincoln catafalque, the casket stand first used after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, according to the Architect of the Capitol.
Family, political leaders, lawmakers and members of Nevada’s congressional delegation attended the historic but brief ceremony in the Capitol, where participants followed strict coronavirus protocols due to a rise in omicron cases.
His wife of 62 years, Landra, and their children, Lana Barringer, sons Rory, Josh, Leif and Key, as well as grandchildren watched from a section that also included Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff.
The program to Reid’s memorial noted his service as a Capitol Police officer, from 1961 to 1964. He moonlighted as an officer as he attended law school.
Prior to Reid, only 33 individuals have lain in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Reid is only the 15th senator to receive the honor, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. The first senator to receive such a ceremony was Henry Clay of Kentucky, who died June 29. 1852.
“It’s an incredible honor for the state to not only have a native son, but somebody who rose to the heights that Senator Reid did here,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.
“I think it’s just an incredible honor, and for the family to see that, for the state of Nevada to know that – this is one of their own,” Cortez Masto said.
Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., echoed the sentiment that Reid may be the first from Nevada to lie in state, “but hopefully he won’t be the last.” She said Reid’s example has inspired many in health care, clergy, community service and teachers “who are fighting for Nevada.”
The senators from Nevada were joined at the service by members of the state’s congressional delegation, Republican Rep. Mark Amodei and Democratic Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford. They were the last to leave the Rotunda after paying their respects.
Amodei and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., pushed through concurrent resolutions passed by the House and Senate to honor Reid with the ceremony in the Rotunda.
Reid’s service was held roughly a month after another for another Senate leader. Just last month, another former Senate majority leader — Bob Dole, a Kansas Republican, decorated World War II veteran and four-time presidential aspirant — was honored in the Rotunda for his service.
Dole’s GOP leadership in the Senate was instructive to Reid as he forged his bare-knuckled approach to achieve Democratic policy goals when he became leader, Reid told the Review-Journal last month.
At the time of Dole’s death, Reid said his former colleague was responsible for “one of the most moving times of my life.” Reid said Dole had asked him to accompany him to the Rotunda ceremony for Sen. Dan Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii.
Inouye and Reid were very close friends during their time in the Senate.
Reid first took office in the House in 1983 and left the Senate in 2017. Despite being small in physical stature, he rose to lead Senate Democrats and served as majority leader from 2007 to 2015.
During a memorial service in Las Vegas Saturday, Biden said Reid did not seek power for vanity, but to use it to help the downtrodden and those trying to scrap their way to a better life in America, as he had done. In Searchlight, Reid’s mom did laundry for the brothels. His father, an often out-of-work miner, eventually committed suicide, Reid told the Review-Journal in a 2016 interview.
Reid hitchhiked to Henderson to attend high school.
Reid punched his future father-in-law, who disapproved of Reid, and eloped with Landra to Utah where they both converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Reid was previously agnostic, while Landra was Jewish.
In 2016, Reid said that of all his accomplishments, he was most proud of his marriage and his children and family.
In Washington, Reid would forgo social gatherings to be with his wife and family. But he loved baseball, and the Washington Nationals publicly marked his passing.
Feats of political strength
But his political feats in an era of ever widening polarization were noted by those who spoke in Nevada and Washington. Reid’s actions had national effects.
Reid urged Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to run for president.
After Obama’s election, Reid worked with the president and Pelosi to pass the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, which expanded health coverage for millions.
Reid also used his political leverage to make Nevada an early presidential caucus state.
At Reid’s urging, the Obama administration blocked a federal plan to permanently store all nuclear waste from U.S. power plants at Yucca Mountain, north of Las Vegas.
The partnership between Reid and Obama also created the first national monument in Nevada, Basin and Range, and later Gold Butte, and Tule Springs Fossil Beds, which were designated by Obama.
Reid was an effective adversary to Republicans, as well. After GOP senators repeatedly blocked Obama administration appointees, Reid exercised the so-called nuclear option to allow the appointments of federal judges, appellate court judges and administration officials without the filibuster.
Republicans, citing Reid’s precedent, later eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court justices, allowing President Donald Trump to place three conservative appointees on the high court.
Reid told the Review-Journal in interviews his decision to use the “nuclear option” and eliminate the filibuster for lower judicial and executive branch nominees – despite opposition within his own party – was the only avenue to take because of Republican opposition.
And this year he publicly encouraged the elimination of the filibuster entirely to give the slim Democratic majority the power to pass Biden’s agenda.
Reid’s body is expected to be returned to Nevada where a private burial is planned in Searchlight.