Former Democratic Senate Chairman Harry Reid died Tuesday at the age of 82. Effective, ruthless and cautious, Reid used his position as chairman of the Senate Democratic Group from the end of the Bush years until the Obama presidency to promote democratic laws and protect programs like social security.
His adaptive nature led Reid from a bipartisan moderate in the Clinton years to a progressive fighter at the end of his career as he pushed through as much of President Barack Obama’s agenda as possible. Reid’s quiet determination made him powerful enough to demand that Obama remove then-Vice President Joe Biden from back-room negotiations with the Republicans because Biden was viewed as a surrender to the GOP. (“None of the deals Biden made have aged well,” a Democratic Senate official told politics back then.)
Reid also helped advance the careers of a new generation of Democratic Party leaders. “When I first met him, he spoke about power in a way I hadn’t heard in a long time, let alone from democratic organizers or activists,” said Indivisible Managing Director Mari Urbina, who worked in Reid’s office at 2008 to 2015, told me this spring.
“No modern Democrat has understood how Reid can use power against the Republicans,” Murshed Zaheed, a progressive Democratic strategist who worked in Reid’s office from 2007 to 2009, told me on Wednesday. “He never waited for a revelation – he attacked and attacked even more – and won most of the fights.”
I’ve spoken extensively with Reid over the past year, both for one nation article on his influence on the progressive wing of his party and on a second project that is still under development. During our conversations, Reid told me about his life and philosophy of government, and shared stories about his work in the Senate.
B.orn in Searchlight, Nevada, Reid spent his early years in the tiny, depressed former mining town in 1939 before leaving for high school in nearby Henderson. From there he went to Southern Utah University, then to George Washington Law School – and, with a law degree, back to Nevada to climb the political ladder of the state.