Two American presidents joined other Democratic leaders from around the country Saturday in commemorating former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who rose from childhood poverty and deprivation in Nevada to become one of the nation’s most powerful elected officials.
The turnout at Reid’s Las Vegas memorial service testified to Reid’s impact on some of the most consequential legislation of the 21st century. President Biden escorted Reid’s widow, Landra Reid, to her seat at the outset of services, before an honor guard bore a flag-draped casket to the well of a hushed auditorium.
Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who described Reid to mourners Saturday as a “truly honest and original character,” were speaking during an invitation-only memorial for the longtime Senate leader. Former President Obama, who credits Reid for his rise to the White House, was delivering the eulogy. Vice President Kamala Harris also attended.
Reid died Dec. 28 at home in Henderson, Nev., at 82 of complications from pancreatic cancer.
Biden served for two decades with Reid in the Senate and worked with him for eight years when Biden was vice president. Biden believed Reid was “one of the greatest leaders in Senate history,” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday.
Schumer on Saturday mentioned the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington and the bravery shown by Capitol Police officers, harkening to Reid’s days as a Capitol Police officer during his studies at George Washington University.
“In so many ways, Harry was a guardian and steward of the Senate, literally and figuratively,” Schumer said.
Reid’s son, Leif, recalled his father’s well-known habit of abruptly hanging up on telephone conversations without saying goodbye, sometimes leaving the other person — whether powerful politicians or close family — chatting away for several minutes before they realized he was no longer there.
Leif Reid said it was “part of the narrative” of his father’s life, and tried to explain that the gesture was more about Reid preserving time for family.
“When he hung up on you, maybe so quickly, it isn’t as much about him being brusque as it is about him being devoted to my mom,” Leif Reid said.
Obama, in a letter to Reid before his death, recalled their close relationship, their different backgrounds and Reid’s climb from an impoverished former gold mining town in the Mojave Desert to leadership in Congress.
“Not bad for a skinny, poor kid from Searchlight,” Obama wrote. “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.”
Reid served for 34 years in Washington and led the Senate through a crippling recession and the Republican takeover of the House after the 2010 elections.
He muscled Obama’s signature healthcare act through the Senate; blocked plans for a national nuclear waste repository in the Nevada desert; was author of a 1986 bill that created Great Basin National Park; and was credited with helping casino company MGM Mirage get financial backing to complete a multibillion-dollar project on the Strip during the Great Recession.
Harry Mason Reid hitchhiked 40 miles to high school and was an amateur boxer before he was elected to the Nevada state Assembly at age 28. He had graduated from Utah State University and worked nights as a U.S. Capitol Police officer while attending George Washington University Law School in Washington.
In 1970, at age 30, he was elected state lieutenant governor with Democratic Gov. Mike O’Callaghan. Reid was elected to the House in 1982 and the Senate in 1986.
He built a political machine in Nevada that for years helped Democrats win key elections. When he retired in 2016 after an exercise accident at home left him blind in one eye, he picked former Nevada Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto to replace him.
Cortez Masto became the first woman from Nevada and the first Latina ever elected to the U.S. Senate.
“Most of all, you’ve been a good friend,” Obama told Reid in his letter. “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.”
Singer-songwriter and environmentalist Carole King and Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the Las Vegas-based rock band the Killers, were performing during the memorial.
Flowers, a longtime friend, shares the Reids’ Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faith and has been a headliner at events including a Lake Tahoe Summit that Harry Reid founded in 1997 to draw attention to the ecology of the lake, and the National Clean Energy Summit that Reid helped launch in 2008 in Las Vegas.
Those flying to Las Vegas will arrive at the newly renamed Harry Reid International Airport. It was previously named for Pat McCarran, a former Democratic U.S. senator from Nevada who once owned the airfield and whose legacy is clouded by racism and antisemitism.
A Chinese immigrant who was attacked in April while collecting cans in East Harlem has died of his injuries, and his case is now deemed a homicide, police said Saturday.
Yao Pan Ma, 61, died Dec. 31, police said. His attack drew national attention as part of a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in New York and around the country. The investigation continues.
Jarrod Powell, 49, of New York City, was previously charged with attempted murder, felony assault and hate crime charges in the case. The Legal Aid Society, which previously represented Powell, said he is no longer a client. A message was left seeking comment with another attorney listed in court records as Powell’s lawyer.
Powell attacked Ma from behind, knocking him to the ground and repeatedly kicking his head before fleeing the scene, prosecutors say. Surveillance video released by police appears to show an attacker stomping on Ma’s head.
A police detective said in a criminal complaint that Powell admitted attacking an Asian man at the approximate time and location of the attack on Ma, stating he did so because the man had robbed him the day before.
News organizations reported Ma was a former restaurant worker who had lost his job because of the COVID-19 pandemic and was collecting cans to make ends meet. Ma’s wife has told reporters he was a citizen of China who came to the U.S. in 2019.
The United Nations said Saturday it would hold talks in Sudan aimed at salvaging a fragile democratic transition amid a grinding stalemate following an October coup and the prime minister’s resignation last week.
Volker Perthes, the U.N. envoy for Sudan, said in a statement the U.N.-facilitated political process would seek a “sustainable path forward towards democracy and peace” in the country. It wasn’t immediately clear when discussions might begin.
“It is time to end the violence and enter into a constructive process. This process will be inclusive,” he said.
Perthes said key players in Sudan, including the military, rebel groups, political parties and protest movements will be invited to take part in the process, as well as civil society and women’s groups.
There was no immediate comment from the military on the U.N. effort.
The pro-democracy movement said it has yet to receive details of the U.N. initiative, adding that it would continue street demonstrations until “the establishment of a fully civilian government to lead the transition.”
The position of the Sudanese Professionals Assn. and the Resistance Committees, however, would be crucial, given that both groups are the backbone of the anti-coup protests and have insisted on transfer of power to civilians.