Obama, Biden Pay Tribute to Harry Reid: “Brilliant, Sometimes Irascible, Deeply Good”

From a Washington Post story by Annie Linskey headlined “Obama, Biden pay tribute to Harry Reid: ‘Brilliant, sometimes irascible, deeply good'”:

LAS VEGAS — President Biden and former president Barack Obama, speaking at former Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid’s memorial service Saturday, lavished praise on Reid’s pragmatic, dealmaking style, at times suggesting a pointed contrast with today’s all-or-nothing politics.

“At a time when so many Americans apply strict purity tests to politicians … Harry had a different view,” Obama said. “He didn’t believe in highfalutin’ theories or rigid ideologies.”

He added that “in the battle between perfection and progress, Harry always chose progress,” and that Reid had “qualities that at this particular moment in our history seem especially relevant.”

Biden, who served with Reid for decades in the Senate, portrayed him as someone who worked out agreements and stuck to them. “If he gave you his word, he kept it. You could bank on it,” Biden said. “That’s how we got so much done.”

Biden noted: “None of it was easy. Not a lot of it was particularly popular when he was doing it.”…

Leading Democrats and hundreds of former staffers descended on this desert city to honor Reid, who died in December. Saturday’s service came with the Democratic Party at a crossroads, as the second half of Biden’s agenda is in jeopardy and many in the party expect significant losses in the midterm elections.

Against that backdrop, several of the leaders appeared to feel nostalgic for Reid’s hard-hitting but often effective tactics….

Reid was first elected to Congress in 1982 but made his mark in the Senate, which he joined after winning a 1986 race and then rose to become Senate Minority leader in 2005. He went on to serve as Senate majority leader in 2007, after Democrats retook the majority through 2015, when they lost it again.

Obama described his unlikely bond with Reid.

“Given how different our backgrounds were, I did not know how well Harry and I would hit it off,” Obama said, recalling that an early sit-down in Reid’s office lasted a mere 10 minutes — which another senator reassured him was actually long for an audience with Reid.

Obama noted that Reid encouraged him to run for president in 2008, at a time when few thought he could win and many other Democrats were coalescing around Hillary Clinton. He also credited Reid with helping to enact many of the biggest accomplishments of his presidency, including a $787 billion stimulus package.

“Few people have done more for this state and this country than this driven, brilliant, sometimes irascible, deeply good man from Searchlight, Nevada,” Obama said.

Most dramatically, Reid was able to wrangle the Senate’s 58 Democrats and two independents to approve the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which came to be known as Obamacare.

Several speakers took note of Reid’s unlikely rise as a native of the tiny town of Searchlight who had to hitchhike to high school, had a stint as a boxer and lost several elections early in his career. “He never gave up,” Biden said.

Once he became the Senate Democratic leader, “like every great leader, he led the Democratic caucus not just by speaking but by listening,” Biden said.

The president also joked about the contrast between his own reputation for long-windedness and Reid’s laconic style. “Harry and I both liked to talk a lot,” Biden said, adding, “I’m just testing whether you’re asleep yet.”

On Capitol Hill, Reid had a reputation as a terse, sometimes pugnacious figure who was not afraid of political infighting.

But the speakers said that reflected a plain-spoken integrity rather than harshness. Obama spoke affectionately of Reid as “curmudgeonly” and noted that “Harry was not a schmoozer or a backslapper.”…

Various speakers also described Reid’s habit of abruptly hanging up the phone when he felt a conversation was over, often to the surprise of the person on the other end. “Every time I hear a dial tone, I think of Harry,” Biden said….

But much of the talk revolved around Reid’s no-nonsense style, including those telephone hang-ups.

“One former colleague said, ‘To Harry, ‘Goodbye’ was an unnecessary word,’ ” Obama said. “It might not have been necessary for Harry, but it is for us. Goodbye, Harry. Thank you for everything.”

Annie Linskey is a White House reporter for The Washington Post. She covered the 2020 presidential campaign for the Post. Before coming to The Post, Linskey was the lead reporter on Democrats for the Boston Globe’s Washington bureau during the 2016 campaign. She reported on the Obama White House for Bloomberg News and BusinessWeek.

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