Harry Reid dead: Obama and Biden lead tributes to ex-Democrat leader who was ‘giant of American history’

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  • Harry Reid
    Harry Reid
    American politician (1939–2021)
  • Barack Obama
    Barack Obama
    44th president of the United States
In this file photo taken on July 8, 2010, US President Barack Obama greets Harry Reid after speaking at a fundraiser for Reid in Las Vegas (AFP via Getty Images)
In this file photo taken on July 8, 2010, US President Barack Obama greets Harry Reid after speaking at a fundraiser for Reid in Las Vegas (AFP via Getty Images)

Tributes have been paid to Harry Reid, the former U.S. Senate majority leader, following his death at the age of 82.

Mr Reid died “peacefully” on Tuesday, surrounded by friends at his home in Henderson, outside Las Vegas in Nevada, “following a courageous, four-year battle with pancreatic cancer,” according to family members and a statement from Landra Reid, his wife of 62 years.

“Harry was a devout family man and deeply loyal friend,” she said. “We greatly appreciate the outpouring of support from so many over these past few years. We are especially grateful for the doctors and nurses that cared for him. Please know that meant the world to him.”

Harry Mason Reid, a combative former boxer-turned-lawyer, was widely acknowledged as one of toughest dealmakers in Congress, a conservative Democrat in an increasingly polarised chamber who vexed lawmakers of both parties with a brusque manner and this motto: “I would rather dance than fight, but I know how to fight.”

Harry Reid speaking as Senate majority leader at the Capitol in 2012 (AP)
Harry Reid speaking as Senate majority leader at the Capitol in 2012 (AP)

Over a 34-year career in Washington which saw him become Nevada’s longest-serving member of Congress, Mr Reid thrived on behind-the-scenes wrangling and kept the Senate controlled by his party through two presidents - Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama - a crippling recession and the Republican takeover of the House after the 2010 elections.

“If Harry said he would do something, he did it,” President Joe Biden said in a statement after the death of his longtime Senate colleague. “If he gave you his word, you could bank on it. That’s how he got things done for the good of the country for decades.”

Mr Biden also paid tribute on Twitter, calling Mr Reid a “giant of our history”.

Mr Reid retired in 2016 after an accident left him blind in one eye, and revealed in May 2018 that he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was undergoing treatment.

Less than two weeks ago, officials and one of his sons, Rory Reid, marked the renaming of the busy Las Vegas airport as Harry Reid International Airport.

Neither Harry nor Landra Reid attended the December 14 ceremony held at the facility that had been known since 1948 as McCarran International Airport, after a former US senator from Nevada, Pat McCarran.

Mr Reid was known in Washington for his abrupt style, typified by his habit of unceremoniously hanging up the phone without saying goodbye.

“Even when I was president, he would hang up on me,” Mr Obama said in a 2019 tribute video to Reid.

Mr Obama took to Twitter on Wednesday to pay a fresh tribute following Mr Reid’s death.

He revealed Mrs Reid had asked him and others to share letters that could be read to Harry as he was “nearing the end”.

The former president shared the letter “in lieu of a statement”.

Addressed simply to “Harry”, it read: “I got the news that the health situation has taken a rough turn, and that it’s hard to talk on the phone. Which, let’s face it, is not that big of a change cause you never liked to talk on the phone anyway!

“Here’s what I want you to know. You were a great leader in the Senate, and early on you were more generous to me than I had any right to expect.

Harry Reid with US President Bill Clinton in 2000 (AFP via Getty Images)
Harry Reid with US President Bill Clinton in 2000 (AFP via Getty Images)

“I wouldn’t have been president had it not been for your encouragement and support, and I wouldn’t have got most of what I got done without your skill and determination.”

He added: “Most of all, you’ve been a good friend. As different as we are, I think we both saw something of ourselves in each other - a couple of outsiders who had defied the odds and knew how to take a punch and cared about the little guy.

“And you know what, we made for a pretty good team.”

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