The Eight Craziest Stories About Harry Reid

The Democratic leader, who announced Friday he won’t run for reelection, has a history of throwing punches, both real and rhetorical.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid accuses Republican Senate leaders of manufacturing the possible shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol February 24, 2015 in Washington, D.C. 
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Nora Kelly
March 27, 2015, 6:46 a.m.

Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, who an­nounced Fri­day he won’t seek reelec­tion in 2016, spent more than three dec­ades in the Sen­ate, the last as Demo­crat­ic lead­er. Though fam­ous for his soft-spoken de­liv­ery, Re­id’s repu­ta­tion is one of a scrappy fight­er, de­liv­er­ing jabs to his fel­low elec­ted of­fi­cials fit­ting for a former am­a­teur box­er.

Here, a few mem­or­able mo­ments in his rough-and-tumble life.

1. In 2005, in the middle of George W. Bush’s second term as pres­id­ent, Re­id was speak­ing to a group of high school ju­ni­ors from Las Ve­gas when he got a little too can­did about the com­mand­er in chief: “The man’s fath­er is a won­der­ful hu­man be­ing,” Re­id said. “I think this guy is a loser.” He later called Bush to apo­lo­gize for his com­ments.

2. In the late 1970s when Re­id was head of the Nevada Gam­ing Com­mis­sion, he was sup­posed to help the FBI ar­rest an en­ter­tain­ment man­ager who had tried to bribe him. In­stead of fol­low­ing the agreed-upon plan, Re­id tried to choke the man, yelling, “You son of a bitch, you tried to bribe me!” be­fore the FBI could re­strain him.

(RE­LATED: For Demo­crats, the Lead­er­ship Scramble Be­gins)

3. Re­id as­cen­ded to power from humble — and un­com­monly chal­len­ging — be­gin­nings in a Nevada min­ing town, and his up­bring­ing pre­ma­turely toughened him. Ac­cord­ing to a 2010 pro­file in The New York­er, “at four­teen, Re­id had a fist­fight with his fath­er (be­cause he was beat­ing Re­id’s moth­er). At nine­teen, he had a fist­fight with his fu­ture fath­er-in-law (be­cause he op­posed his daugh­ter’s mar­riage).” A high school teach­er of Re­id’s — Mike O’Callaghan, who’d later be­come the gov­ernor of Nevada — helped him use that pug­nacity in start­ing his light­weight box­ing ca­reer.

4. Dur­ing the 2012 elec­tion, Re­id al­leged three times — once in an in­ter­view with The Huff­ing­ton Post, once on the Sen­ate floor, and once in an of­fi­cial state­ment — that Mitt Rom­ney, the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate, hadn’t paid his taxes in 10 years. Here, Re­id is in Sen­ate cham­bers, cri­ti­ciz­ing the GOP nom­in­ee:

5. The re­la­tion­ship between Re­id and former Pres­id­ent George W. Bush was fam­ously con­ten­tious, and Re­id called Bush a “li­ar” back in the early 2000s for his ap­prov­al of stor­ing nuc­le­ar waste in Yucca Moun­tain in Nevada. Ac­cord­ing to Re­id, Bush had pre­vi­ously in­dic­ated he wouldn’t ap­prove the plan. Re­id later doubled down on his ac­cus­a­tion in an in­ter­view with Charlie Rose:

6. Back in 2012, the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als’ then-19-year-old phe­nom Bryce Harp­er — who is from Re­id’s home state of Nevada and, like the minor­ity lead­er, a Mor­mon — was asked by a re­port­er if he’d planned to cel­eb­rate a re­cent win against the Toronto Blue Jays with a drink. (In Canada, the leg­al drink­ing age is 19.) He fam­ously re­tor­ted, “I’m not an­swer­ing that. That’s a clown ques­tion, bro.” One week later, Re­id re­spon­ded to a re­port­er’s ques­tion about im­mig­ra­tion in an identic­al way, to the de­light of the press gathered around him:

7. Re­id worked as a Cap­it­ol Po­lice of­ficer while he was put­ting him­self through law school at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity in the early 1960s. After of­ficers were cri­ti­cized for their hand­ling of a car chase be­fore the 2015 State of the Uni­on ad­dress, Re­id called him­self a “stal­wart de­fend­er and pro­tect­or” of the Cap­it­ol Po­lice. On Thursday even­ing, as if re­min­is­cing about his ca­reer ahead of the re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment, he pos­ted a photo of his vin­tage badge on In­s­tagram.

8. Re­id’s tough words haven’t been re­served only for sit­ting pres­id­ents or pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port in Politico, dur­ing a Demo­crat­ic policy lunch dur­ing the 2013 gov­ern­ment shut­down, Re­id let loose on House Speak­er John Boehner, as­sert­ing, “He’s a cow­ard!” for privately sup­port­ing fed­er­al health care sub­sidies for mem­bers and staffers then later pub­licly de­noun­cing them.

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