Top Democrats flocked to Las Vegas on Saturday for a memorial service to honor Sen. Harry Reid, the party’s combative majority leader whose legislative prowess made President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act a reality — and whose no-holds-barred partisanship set the stage for today’s bitterly divided Congress.
Obama delivered a heartfelt eulogy for Reid, and President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also spoke in honor of their longtime colleague.
“He enjoyed every minute of proving doubters wrong, again and again and again,” Obama said of Reid, who he affectionately called a “driven, brilliant, sometimes irascible, deeply good man.”
“In a battle between perfection and progress,” the former president added pointedly, “Harry always chose progress.”
Biden praised Reid’s humility during a 19-minute address. “Harry was all Searchlight, no spotlight,” he said, evoking the tiny town where Reid was born.
But the president grew heated as he delved into partisan rhetoric.
“You wanted Harry in your corner, and that’s what we should remember as a nation today,” Biden said angrily. “Harry knew better than most how difficult democracy is, that the idea of America itself is under attack from dark and deepening forces.”
Reid, 82, died “peacefully” on Dec. 28 surrounded by friends, his wife Landra Reid announced. He retired from the Senate in 2017, soon after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
A string quartet played solemn hymns and classical selections as guests filed into the darkened Smith Center for the Performing Arts for the invitation-only service.
A large screen above the black stage displayed family snapshots and a rotating array of Twitter tributes from Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Reid’s hand-picked successor.
The crowd went silent as a military honor guard bore Reid’s flag-draped casket into the theater and set it down before the stage.
The service began with a prayer from Reid’s granddaughter Ella Joy and tributes from his five children, along with a performance of “Be Still” by the Las Vegas-based rock band The Killers, performed by frontman Brandon Flowers, a longtime family friend.
Born in the mining town of Searchlight, Nev., Reid spent his hardscrabble childhood in a small cabin without indoor plumbing. He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1982 and the Senate in 1984 — eventually becoming Nevada’s longest-serving member of Congress.
As the Senate majority leader between 2006 and 2014, Reid played a leading role in the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act during the Obama administration.
But the Senate rule change he instituted in 2013 to ease the confirmation of Obama’s judicial nominees backfired on the Democrats a few years later, when the Republican-controlled Senate used Reid’s new rules to approve hundreds of conservative judges nominated by President Trump.
After Saturday’s service, Reid’s remains will be flown to Washington, D.C., where he will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda Jan. 12 — the first Nevadan to be so honored.