WASHINGTON – Congress is honoring the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, where he will lie in state.
A hearse carrying the body of Reid pulled up to the Capitol on Wednesday’s brisk January morning. The honor guard escorted the casketinside, with his family following behind.
Reid, who served Nevada in the upper chamber for three decades, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2018. He died Dec. 28 at age 82.
Reid was the longest-serving senator in Nevada’s history and presided over the upper chamber as majority leader from 2007 to 2015. He gained a reputation for soft-spoken ruthlessness as he clawed his way from Nevada’s lieutenant governor’s office to the pinnacle of the U.S. Senate.
Reid’s casket was placed on Lincoln Catafalque – first used as a stand for the casket for Abraham Lincoln, according to the Architect of the Capitol – as guests kept their hands over their hearts.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y,. spoke first, calling Reid a “dear friend and mentor.” The two became friends when Schumer joined the Senate in 1999, the leader said, calling them a “match made in heaven.”
“We celebrate Harry Mason Reid’s final return to the Capitol because we must. Few have shaped the workings of this building, like our dear friend from Nevada,” Schumer said.
Schumer said that despite Reid being famous for being soft-spoken, he “was a force of thunder. He was honest, he was direct, and he was original.”
“Harry was a guardian and a steward of the Senate, literally and figuratively. He took great care of the Senate as an institution, but he also knew that the Senate had to adapt to changing times,” Schumer said. “As we confront the challenges of the coming weeks and months, I take comfort knowing that Harry is with us in spirit, walking alongside us, as we continue the work he dedicated himself to for so many years.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony was open only to invited guests.
A viewing period will now occur until 4 p.m., with a ceremonial departure at 5 p.m.
Reid, stooped and bespectacled, was a pro-gun, pro-life Democrat and a devout Mormon. He lost his first bid for Senate in 1974, then a race for mayor of Las Vegas one year later. He became chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission and later a congressman before winning his first Senate race in 1986.
Vice President Kamala Harris was in attendance with second gentleman Douglas Emhoff. President Joe Biden was not there, though he spoke at Reid’s funeral over the weekend in Las Vegas, where he, former President Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats remembered Reid’s life and legacy.
Biden, a 22-year Senate colleague of Reid, said at the funeral that “you wanted Harry in your corner,” crediting his leadership with pushing through some of the Obama administration’s greatest achievements while Biden was vice president: helping to rein in Wall Street, preserve Social Security and pass environmental protections for Nevada.
“The thing about Harry – he never gave up,” Biden said. “Let there be no doubt. Harry Reid will be considered one of the greatest Senate majority leaders in history.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., noted Reid’s decades of work in the Capitol, and said this is “where his portrait hangs, in these hallowed halls, offering a source of strength and inspiration to us all. From his humble roots in Searchlight (Nevada) to the spotlight of Capitol Hill, his entire life was defined by defined long odds.”
“He conquered the impossible, and he made the world a better place,” Pelosi said. “History will remember him as one of the most consequential Senate majority leaders of all time. But those of us fortunate enough to know him and love him will remember also his character, compassion, and his goodness.”
As Pelosi returned to her seat, she stopped to hug Reid’s wife, of 62 years, Landra Reid. As she walked around the catafalque, Landra left what appeared to be Reid’s signature black hat at the edge of his casket.
The tradition of using the Capitol Rotunda to pay tribute to distinguished Americans began in 1852. Lying in state is an honor that has been bestowed on only 35 people in 169 years, according to the Office of the Historian.
The last person to lie in state at the Capitol was former Sen. Bob Dole, a decorated World War II veteran and Kansas Republican lawmaker, who died in early December at age 98. Others have included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September 2020, presidents dating to Abraham Lincoln, vice presidents, members of Congress, military leaders and unknown soldiers from World Wars I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Reid is the first person from Nevada to receive the honor.
Contributing: James DeHaven, Reno Gazette-Journal; Courtney Subramanian, Joey Garrison, USA TODAY