After a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer, Harry Reid, who lived in extreme poverty in rural Nevada and became one of the country’s most influential leaders, died Tuesday at the age of 82 at his home.
Harry Reid’s wife, Landra, described him in a statement as a “devoted family man and deeply loyal friend” and said he passed away peacefully surrounded by his family.
Reid was feared to be dying after undergoing surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2018, which has one of the lowest survival rates. However, he announced last summer that he had undergone experimental surgery and that he was in “complete remission” and cancer-free.
From modest beginnings to the US Senate
Reid’s beginnings did not suggest his political future. His mother earned money doing laundry for local brothels when he was a child, he wrote in his memoir, “The Good Fight,” while his father was a hard-rock miner. As a teenager, he often hitchhiked 45 miles to high school in Henderson, Nevada.
Reid was a boxer in his youth before attending Utah State University and going to law school at George Washington University while working as an officer for the United States Capitol Police.
Reid said in 2011, “I think I am the only former Capitol policeman who is a senator.” “I am so impressed with the work that they do.”
Upon returning to Nevada, Reid served as lieutenant governor from 1971 to 1975, becoming the state’s youngest elected official. Reid served as chair of the Nevada Gaming Commission, a powerful position overseeing and regulating the state’s casinos after losing reelection. Reid and his family became mob targets as a result of the job: When Reid left the job, his wife discovered a bomb in their car.
Harry Reid was polarizing because he was the Democratic Party’s leader in the chamber. Many Republicans attributed the gridlock in Congress to Reid’s hardball tactics, but Reid delighted in playing the bad guy – even calling George W. Bush a “loser” and a “liar.” (Later, when Donald Trump became president, Reid told CNN’s Bash that he wished for Bush “every day.”)
With his irascible rhetoric against Republicans and his use of controversial Senate procedures, Reid is often credited with deepening a period of political polarization that left traditionalists worried that the consensus that made the Senate special had disappeared forever.
Those tactics were also used in electoral politics. While Obama was running for reelection in 2012, Reid accused Republican nominee Mitt Romney of not paying his taxes. Reid told CNN in 2015 that he did not regret the attack at all.
Reid asked rhetorically, “Romney didn’t win.”.
Even though he annoyed Republicans, he was often praised by Democrats for being the last line of defense for Bush and other Republicans. Defending social programs and advocating immigration reform, he reflected the wishes of the large Latino community back home.
Reid shepherded into law many of the centerpieces of Obama’s liberal political legacy, and he described one of his proudest accomplishments as having encouraged then-Sen. Obama to run for office.
Reid told CNN in 2015 that he called him into his office and suggested that he take a look at it. “He was stunned because I was the first one to ever suggest that to him,” Reid said.