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. 
National Journal
Add to Briefcase
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.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.