Reid was born in Searchlight, Nevada, and rose out of poverty to rule the Senate. He died on December 28, 2021, at the age of 82.
In his youth, Reid fought as an amateur boxer, then worked as a Capitol Police officer while studying at George Washington University law school. He became Nevada’s lieutenant governor under his mentor, Gov. Mike O’Callaghan, then lost a couple of political races before O’Callaghan appointed him to chair the Nevada Gaming Commission, where he took on the mob.
Reid won a House race in 1982 and a Senate seat in 1986. He served in the Senate for 30 years until his retirement in 2017. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018.
Reid’s legislative record was cemented between 2008 and 2010, when he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bailed out the banks and the auto industry, passed an $800 billion economic recovery plan, the Dodd-Frank overhaul of Wall Street and the Affordable Care Act, which provided health insurance coverage to more than 30 million people.
Reid’s blunt rhetoric endeared him to his supporters, but his public insults of prominent conservatives like President George W. Bush (“loser”) and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (“an embarrassment”), and false claim that 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for a decade, drew sharp criticism.
Reid’s longest-lasting legacy might be his decision to change how the Senate operates. In 2013, he and Senate Democrats voted to end filibusters for most presidential nominations, including for judges, during a GOP blockade.
Some Democrats said they regretted their votes during the Trump administration, when Senate Republicans eliminated the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees. But out of office, Reid pushed for his former Democratic colleagues to go further and end the filibuster to pass far-reaching proposals, including on climate change.
The Senate is now considering whether to invoke the so-called “nuclear option” for legislation, which would fundamentally alter how Congress writes and passes laws by allowing 51 senators, rather than 60, to advance bills. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said the Democrats’ proposal would “break the Senate.”
But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Reid’s Democratic successor, pushed Tuesday for the Senate to change its rules in order to pass laws making it easier to vote.
“If Republicans continue to hijack the rules of the Senate to prevent voting rights from happening, if they continue paralyzing this chamber to the point where we’re helpless to fight back against the big lie, we must consider the necessary steps we can take so the Senate can adapt and act,” Schumer said.