Obama, Biden honor Sen. Reid as man ‘who got things done’

  • Former President Barack Obama speaks during a memorial service for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Saturday at the Smith Center in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

LAS VEGAS — Former President Barack Obama paid tribute to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Saturday as a man “who got things done,” as Democratic leaders spoke of Reid’s impact on some of the most important legislation of the 21st century, from health care to Wall Street reform.

The turnout at Reid’s Las Vegas memorial service was testament to his legacy, rising from a childhood of poverty to become an influential congressional leader. President Joe Biden escorted Reid’s widow, Landra Reid, to her seat at the outset of services before an honor guard carried the flag-draped casket to the well of a hushed auditorium. Reid died Dec. 28 at home in Henderson, Nevada, at 82 of complications from pancreatic cancer.

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“Let there be no doubt. Harry Reid will be considered one of the greatest Senate majority leaders in history,” Biden said. Speakers credited Reid’s work on strengthening health care and on Wall Street reform and economic recovery in the wake of the 2008 recession, as part of what is considered one of the most consequential congressional sessions of modern times.

Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who described Reid to mourners as a “truly honest and original character,” spoke during an invitation-only memorial.

Obama, who credits Reid for his rise to the White House, delivered the eulogy. When Reid helped pass the Affordable Care Act at the start of Obama’s first term, “he didn’t do it to burnish his own legacy,” Obama said. When Reid was a boy, Obama explained, Reid’s family was so poor that “he didn’t even know” what health care was. When a tooth went bad, his father pulled it himself. A brother let a broken leg heal on its own.

In Reid’s work in Washington, “he did it for the people back home and families like his, who needed somebody looking out for them, when nobody else did. Harry got things done,” Obama said. A running and humorous theme throughout the funeral was ‘Harry Reiding’ — Reid’s habit of abruptly ending telephone conversations without saying goodbye.

“I have to tell you, every time I hear a dial tone, I think of Harry,” Biden told mourners.

Reid’s son Leif sought to explain his father’s well-known habit, a move that sometimes left the other person — whether powerful politicians or close family — chatting away for several minutes before realizing he was no longer there.

“I probably got hung up on the most by Harry Reid, two or three times a day, for 12 years,” Pelosi said.

“Sometimes I even called him back and said ‘Harry, I was singing your praises,” Pelosi said. To which Reid replied: “I don’t want to hear it,” she said, before she’d hear the phone click dead again.

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