Policy

Reid Gets His Portrait

Retiring Democratic leader is honored all day in the Senate

From left, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Sen. Charles E. Schumer, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pose in front of Reid's portrait after it was unveiled during a ceremony on Capitol Hill on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Thursday was Harry Reid’s day in the Senate.

In the morning, Democratic colleagues filled the chamber to listen to their departing leader review his life and legislative accomplishments a final time from his desk in the front row.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell kicked off the tributes to his frequent foe by recalling Reid’s upbringing in the tiny mining town of Searchlight, Nevada, where the future lawmaker hitchhiked to school.

The Kentucky Republican also spoke of the two leaders’ shared love of baseball, noting Reid’s ability to rattle off the starting lineup of the world champion Cleveland Indians of the late 1940s.

“I wanted to throw fastballs for the Dodgers. Harry wanted to play center field at Fenway. We wound up as managers of two unruly franchises instead,” McConnell said. “As the leaders of our parties … we’re charged with picking the batting order, controlling the pitch selection, and trying our best to manage 100 opening day starters.”

“Harry is probably looking forward to having more time to dedicate as a fan of the sport and never having to miss another game because of votes,” he said.

Rather than wax poetic, Reid embarked on a lengthy review of his legislative fights and accomplishments, talking about everything from the efforts to pass the 2010 health care law to the promotion of travel and tourism to Las Vegas to his work as a committee of one recommending federal judges to Nevada, including current GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval.

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“Things were going great until he ran against my son for governor and I wish he hadn’t because my son would now be governor,” Reid said.

Reid talked about the various Democratic and Republican leaders with whom he has served, and recalled the poignant moment when former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole came back to the Capitol to bid a final farewell to fellow World War II veteran Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.

In the afternoon, it was Reid’s turn to do something that his colleagues have said he does not much like: listen to others say nice things about him.

A portrait of Reid was unveiled in the Kennedy Caucus Room with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on hand for the second time in as many days, this time to pay tribute to Reid.

Biden’s tribute to Reid drew applause and a standing ovation for Reid’s wife Landra.

“You have been an enormous, enormous asset, not only as a partner, but in your own right,” Biden said of Reid’s wife of 57 years.

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Biden said that members of the Senate Democratic Caucus stuck with Reid on tough votes dealing with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the health care law and emergency assistance to Wall Street under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“Ask anybody who has run on our side of the aisle … the very election of …a half a dozen senators in the last eight years rested on Harry’s intervention,” Biden said.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who served eight years as a senator for New York, joined in the tributes, acknowledging that it was not the speech she planned to give at the Capitol after running for president.

“After a few weeks of taking selfies in the woods, I thought it would be a good idea to come out,” Clinton said. “Today, we are hanging Harry’s portrait here in the Capitol, but the more fitting portrait of him will be the one that goes in the dictionary next to the word ‘fighter.’” 

Reid treated the afternoon event as an opportunity to combine thanking friends and colleagues while roasting them along the way. He joked about the sliced-off middle finger of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“Has your finger ever grown back?” Reid said to Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff. “I guess I shouldn’t joke about that.”

And he endorsed the return of congressionally directed spending, or earmarking.

“One of the great earmarkers of all time is right down there, with the red tie,” Reid said, referring to McConnell.

Rema Rahman contributed to this report.

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