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Harry Reid, lion of Senate Democrats, has died at age 82

Longtime Senator Harry Reid dies at 82
Longtime Senator Harry Reid dies at 82 01:54

Harry Reid, the son of a Nevada miner who rose to become one of the most powerful Democrats in Senate history, has died, his family said Tuesday. He was 82.

Reid's family said in a statement that he died Tuesday afternoon after a "four-year battle with pancreatic cancer." 

"We are so proud of the legacy he leaves behind both on the national stage and his beloved Nevada," his wife, Landra Reid, said in a statement. "Harry was deeply touched to see his decades of service to Nevada honored in recent weeks with the renaming of Las Vegas' airport in his honor."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted that Reid was one of the "most amazing individuals I've ever met."

"He never forgot where he came from and used those boxing instincts to fearlessly fight those who were hurting the poor & the middle class," Schumer tweeted. "He's gone but will walk by the sides of many of us in the Senate every day."

Harry Reid
In this Dec. 8, 2016 file photo, then Senator Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks during a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington. Evan Vucci / AP

Reid was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, after serving two terms as a congressman from Nevada's newly-created 1st district. Reid accumulated power in the Senate through the years, being chosen as minority whip in 1998 and eventually rising to become Democratic leader in 2005. He led the Senate Democrats until his retirement in 2016 amid health problems.

Famous for his deal-making skills, Reid was key to getting all 60 Democrats on board with former President Obama's signature piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act. He credited his support of Obamacare to his early years with no access to health or dental care.

"Health care. The Affordable Care Act. I have talked about that a little bit," Reid said in his farewell speech in the Senate. "It would have been wonderful if we had something like that around to help my family when we were growing up." 

Reid was born in Searchlight, Nevada, a former mining boomtown, in 1939. His father was a rock miner and his mother did laundry for the brothels and casinos — and neither had a high school diploma. In his farewell speech to the Senate in 2016, Reid said Searchlight had about 250 people and "had seen its better days."  

Reid worked at a service station in high school where he used the money he earned to buy his mother new teeth, and since the town had no high school, he went to high school in Henderson, Nevada. Reid said that he and his brother were born at home because there was no hospital, and he said he didn't go to the dentist until he was 14 years old. 

Reid's father, who the former senator said suffered from depression, died by suicide when Reid was 32 years old and serving as Nevada's lieutenant governor.

At Basic High School, Reid met his future wife, Landra Gould, who he was married to for 62 years. 

In the Senate, Reid was not only famous for favoring his home state's issues, such as mining and the gaming industry, but also for being an avid partisan and dealmaker — in 2003, he persuaded Republican Senator Jim Jeffords to switch parties and become a Democrat, giving Democrats the majority in the Senate.

Reid first took a leadership position in 1999 and led the Democratic opposition to privatizing Social Security and after becoming Majority Leader in 2006, he became more vocal in opposing the Iraq War. 

When Obama took office in 2009, Reid pushed through the former president's priorities — the stimulus package and then the Affordable Care Act. That cost Reid politically: In the 2010 election, he won by less than 300 votes, according to Politico

Former Senator Harry Reid dies at age 82 12:58

In 2013, Reid advocated for Democrats to eliminate the filibuster for judicial appointments. He told The New York Times he "had no choice" but it cost Democrats when they lost the majority in 2014 and. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used it to his advantage to appoint conservative justices during former President Trump's presidency. 

Reid remained steadfast in his opposition to the filibuster, saying at a 2020 event that "it's not a question of if it's going to be gone, it's only when it's going to be gone." 

Reid sustained an exercising injury in 2015, forcing him to wear an eye patch after undergoing several surgeries. He announced later that year that he would not seek a sixth term. His chosen Democratic successor, Catherine Cortezo Masto, won his seat that year.

After Trump's election, Reid told New York magazine that he wouldn't miss Washington. "If Hillary had won and had a Democratic majority, I would have really missed the action," he said. "With this, no, I'm not going to miss it."

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