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At This Hour

Remembering Harry Reid. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 12, 2022 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: What do you think the lasting legacy of Harry Reid's influence in the Senate will be?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A very complicated one and it is one that he relished in (sic), the fact that he was a complicated man, a complicated politician, a complicated legislator.

And it all comes from how he grew up. There are so many tales of Americans kind of living the American dream, coming from nothing and reaching the top because of the nature of this country.

But there are few as storied and real and raw as Harry Reid's. I went with him to Searchlight, Nevada, basically a truck stop desert town outside of Las Vegas and I saw where he grew up, in basically a shack and no running water. He fought himself out of there, hitchhiking in order to get to high school in Henderson, Nevada.

And the fact that he came from there and clawed his way up in politics was the reason why he said to me -- and probably Manu and you, Kate, and Jeff, so many times, he wanted to fight as hard as he could for what he saw as his prime legislative legacy, which is ObamaCare, and pushing hard to make sure that it happened.

You saw over the weekend when President Obama was eulogizing him. And he said, point blank, ObamaCare would not be the law of the land without Harry Reid's knowledge of the Senate rules and the knowledge of the senators that he worked with and how to work them and how not to work them.

I'll just say that it was because of what he saw in his own family, the lack of health care and his brother having a broken leg and writhing in pain and just having to wait it out because they did not have health care. That is what led him to push that legacy and that is probably the biggest.

BOLDUAN: We saw the vice president has entered the rotunda and the second gentleman and then next the remains and the casket of Harry Reid.

Manu, Dana used the word "complicated" and I am trying to think of the words. But I was thinking a study of contrasts, soft spoken but a former boxer and a ruthless negotiator and so powerful. But yet in appearance, he seemed slight.

How would you describe him?

You covered him as well.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The ultimate inside player. He rose to be one of the most powerful senators in American history. He was not at all charismatic and he would be the first to admit it.

But he realized how the work the Senate behind the scenes, despite his blunt gaffes that he would commit, he would work privately with senators from both sides and try to cut deals.

Even after the most vicious attacks from Republicans, he would work with them quietly in different ways. And Republicans would remember the things that he did over the years to try to mend the fences.

And senator Susan Collins is one of them. After attacking the Republicans, he would send nice notes to them afterwards and he would talk to them about how he admired what they stood for.

And as Dana rightly points out, if not for him, there would not have been the Affordable Care Act, would not be the law of the land, because it was his dealmaking that got it through, not the speechifying and going out with grand speeches but cutting deals.

And if not for him, the Democrats would not have taken control of the United States Senate in the early part of George W. Bush years because he decided to forego sharing a key Senate committee, convincing one senator to switch and caucus with the Democrats, to give Democrats control of the 50-50 Senate.

A shrewd inside player who grew up from very, very humble roots and very impoverished beginnings to emerge as one of the most consequential figure in American history.

And I think that's what you will hear from senator Schumer, who will eulogize him today and from Speaker Pelosi. And that is what you heard from senators on both sides of the aisle since his passing.


BOLDUAN: And, Jeff, you were in Nevada last weekend and it would not be President Obama without Harry Reid.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: No doubt about it and it's hard to imagine, if President Obama was still senator, Senator Obama was standing here, that's very possible. And President Obama spoke about this very directly at the memorial service on Saturday in Las Vegas as he gave the eulogy there.

And can see senators, former staffers as well, he had relationships across the aisle but it was the early conversation in the spring of 2006 with the freshman Illinois senator, Barack Obama, where Harry Reid was getting a sense of the country, that it was changing, largely because of the Iraq War. If you think about it at the time, Hillary Clinton was running, Joe

Biden was running, Chris Dodd was running, John Edwards was running for president and perhaps some others. but he saw Barack Obama and he said, why don't you consider running for president.

At this point, then senator Obama took it seriously but it was their partnership in the White House and on Capitol Hill that allowed these things to get done, that Manu and Dana were talking about.

President Obama perhaps said it best when he called him a pragmatist. He was not particularly ideological but he wanted to get things done for the country, for the people of Searchlight, for health care, for poverty, for immigrants and those other matters.

So he simply is not replaceable. You can see Chuck Grassley there, the long time Republican from Iowa and how many former senators have we seen lying in this position in recent months, Bob Dole comes to mind.

So this is a passing of a generation of American leaders.

BOLDUAN: And, Dana, is that Landra?

BASH: Yes.


BOLDUAN: Landra, his partner in all of this, his wife of 60-plus years and that's something that must be noted as well.

BASH: I am so glad that you said that, because what a love story. Senator Reid had a love of the Senate. But his first love was his family and that all started with his wife, Landra. They met as teenagers and he hitchhiked to go to high school, that's where he met her.


BOLDUAN: I am going to cut you off as they begin the invocation and we will listen in together.

MARGARET GRUN KIBBEN, HOUSE CHAPLAIN: (INAUDIBLE) and his fighting spirit, that tirelessly sparred and parried in defense of this nation. Thank you. That his journey from Searchlight, Nevada, found its way to our capitol and that he would exercise his drive and passion and to go to distance in this political ring.

Bless this gathering as we honor his legacy that has touched countless policies and people. Now, as he rests from the joy of the work that he has done for this country, having spoken plainly and listened well, may he hear your own "well done" for his faithful and devoted service to this legislative body and this nation.

Inspire in all who yet serve the same willingness to favor pragmatism even if it is unpopular and choose a life of integrity that befits this institution. It is in your eternal name that we pray. Amen. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Honorable Charles E. Schumer, Majority Leader of the United States Senate.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: Good morning. It is such a honor to speak about my friend and mentor Henry Reid of Searchlight, Nevada, as he would proudly say of himself.

First let me say to his family and particularly to Landra, the love of Harry's life of 62 years, who he called his rock, the only time I ever saw Harry cry was when he told me that Landra had an awful car accident and had broken so many bones.

He said over and over again, as tears streamed down his cheeks, "My poor little Landra, my poor little Landra."


SCHUMER: And a few months ago I lost my father, Abe. But I still feel his spirit with me every single day, just as I know that Harry is with you, Landra, and your family and with all of us today and for many of us forever more.

To celebrate Harry Reid under the dome of the Capitol is an exercise of contradictions. Anybody who knew Harry could count on a few things. He rarely said goodbye on the phone and in the first three month of any new session, each freshman would call me up and say, "Why is Harry mad at me"

No, no, no I did not have to tell them why. He is not mad at you; he just hung up and Harry would have been deeply embarrassed and probably annoyed at our holding not one but multiple ceremonies in his honor.

I can hear him now, "You guys organized an entire ceremony in Nevada and invited former and current presidents and senators and you had the front man from The Killers sing and still it was not enough for all of you?"

And on the other hand, even though Harry may not want this pomp and circumstance, I know that a part of him would enjoy it. He was sort of like Sid Caesar. When he gave a good line, "No more applause, please."

My friends, we celebrate Henry Mason Reid's return to the Capitol, because we must. Few have shaped the workings of this building like our dear friend from Nevada. Few have dedicated their lives to the work of the people quite like Harry did.

And today, our feelings of both loss and gratitude are immense. I got to know Harry when we came to the Senate in 1999 and we could not have been more different: me, a brash Jewish kid out of Brooklyn and there was Harry, a Mormon from Searchlight, Nevada.

I learned quickly, what Harry said, even though he spoke lightly, carried the force of thunder. He was honest, direct and he was original. I love this story. Back in 2012, during the Democratic National

Convention in Charlotte, Harry summoned me to his hotel one late night. I rushed over and I saw Landra in the room. But before I could say anything, Harry pulled me aside into the small little bathroom and we were right on top of each other.

And he lowered his voice. And he said, "Chuck, I want to take care of something very important," he said, and he pulled out a wad of cash from his pocket. He peeled out four $100.

"You have been working hard and doing the right things to become leader but you need to dress the part. Go buy some better shoes, for goodness sakes."

Later on, I asked him why he pulled me into the bathroom for that conversation. His answer: so he would not embarrass me in front of Landra. And that is Harry Reid to a tee.

If you were lucky enough to be someone that Harry cared about and called your friend -- and he cared with every fiber of his being. And the generosity went beyond things sartorial.

A few years ago he called up my wife, Iris, and said, I have sent you and Chuck a special gift. It's the greatest thing. It is a month subscription of Netflix.

And I didn't have the heart to tell him that we had subscribed for four years already. He wasn't big on new technology. He did not text or mail and when you called him, he hung up the phone so quickly, that you would think that he was allergic to telecommunications.

But what he was really allergic to was the artifice politics that he considered a distraction from his true passion, getting good things done in this Capitol. He never forgot where he came nor the people, his friends or neighbors who, just like Harry early on, struggled to get by.

And he kept up with so many of them and we remember hearing all of the stories. In Harry's view, the government had a moral obligation to see to it that these people had every opportunity to secure a better life for themselves and their families.


SCHUMER: He was tough as nails and a fighter to his core but of the most compassionate individuals that you could imagine. In short, he was one of the most incredible and generous individuals that I have ever met and the sort of person that you will only come across in a handful of times in your lives.

When you lose somebody as special as Harry, they are never gone. And they are always with you. For those of us in the Senate Democratic Caucus, I think that was especially true last week as we observed the anniversary of the violent insurrection against our Capitol.

And on that day, we saw so many selfless and heroic acts by the Capitol Police who once counted among their esteemed ranks a young Harry, who served as an officer while studying at George Washington Law School. He was a guardian and a steward of the Senate, literally and figuratively.

He took great care of the Senate in its institution but he also knew that the Senate had to adapt to changing times. 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 that he dedicated himself to for so many years.

May God rest his immortal soul and may his memory be a blessing to us all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Good morning. Madam Vice President, distinguished congressional leaders and our special guests, the family of Harry Reid.

Today as Speaker of the House, it is my solemn and official honor to welcome back to the United States Capitol a legendary leader of great integrity, a pioneering patriot and our dear friend, Harry Mason Reid.

On behalf of the Congress, I extend a special welcome to his loving wife and rock, Landra, with whom he shared a beautiful love and happiness. Their happiness was a joy to all of us who loved them.

Their dear children, all of whom, and his grandchildren, all of whom he was very, very proud.

On Saturday, we gathered in Nevada for a celebration of Harry's life. Listening to the leadership of his church and the adoring comments of his children, it is clear that Harry's strength sprang from the family and the church and his patriotism from the love of our country and future.

And it is fitting that we pay final tribute of Harry here in the United States Capitol. It is here where he served as a sentinel of the Capitol Police workforce as he worked through law school and served three decades representing his beloved home state of Nevada, including two terms as the House of Representatives.

Chuck always says he was decades in the Senate and it is here that his portrait hangs in these hallowed halls, offering a sense of strength and inspiration to us all.

From his humble roots in Searchlight, to the spotlight of Capitol Hill, his entire life was defend by defying long odds. The 12 years that he and I served together as leaders in our respective houses, it allowed me the privilege to watch him defy those odds every day.

Indeed, to see him lead and legislate was to see a master at work, with a brilliant, strategic mind and command of the rules and respect for his senators.


PELOSI: And despite long odds, with his leadership in the Congress, working together with President Obama and then President Biden, we forged great progress for American families, the American Recovery Act, the Dodd-Frank reforms and the Affordable Care Act, to name a few.

And, as everybody knows, he loved his home state of Nevada. He fought tireless for them in every possible way for its working families, preserving its natural environment and protecting its coveted role in the presidential selection process.

As someone who served over 12 years, there is much more I want to say but he was a man of a few words and he would want us all to be of a few words.

As referenced by Leader Schumer and others who knew him, we spoke on the phone every day. So I probably hold the record of being hung up on more than anybody. Many times I would call him back and say, Harry, I was only beginning to thank you and praise you for what you have done.

"I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear it."

He was so modest. As he came and -- referenced his retirement and announced the retirement, I would say, Harry, we will have a big dinner and have all your friends and your family, to come to pay tribute to you.

"I don't want you to spend the money. Spend it on feeding the poor. I don't want to hear any praise."

Needless to say, his humility made him somewhat unique in the political arena and also made him truly beloved by so many who worked in the halls, whether his colleagues or friends in the House and the Senate, maintenance people or the Capitol Police, those who uphold the institution of the Congress of the U.S., everyone loved Harry.

Chuck talked about gifts. At the end of his term, he came over to my office and he said, "I have something for you I want you to remember me by."

I thought maybe a note or a photo, something. Instead, he brought in and unwrapped a bald eagle, an American symbol, a bald eagle, stuffed but still with the breeze fluttering its wings.

I said, "Harry, what happened?

"Did you go hunting and accidentally shoot a bald eagle?" an endangered species. He said, no, he flew into a live wire and so I call him Sparky.

I said, OK. Well, I accepted then Sparky but with his permission and, appropriately, we have named him Harry.

Sparky flew from the leader's office to the Speaker's office -- now Harry. As we know, before Harry entered the political arena, he could hold his own in the boxing ring. And so it is fitting to quote Muhammad Ali. And his immortal words capture Harry's fighting spirit.

Muhammad Ali said, "Impossible is not a declaration, it is a dare."

Harry would be the first to admit that he was the not the biggest, the loudest or the strongest but he was tough and relentless. He conquered the impossible and he made the world a better place.

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 also remember his character and compassion and his goodness, his goodness.

To his many loved ones, thank you for sharing Harry Reid with the country and with the Congress. May it be a comfort to you, Landra, to your beloved children and grandchildren and great-grandchild.


PELOSI: And to the great state of Nevada, the grateful nation mourns your loss, that so many people are praying for you at this sad time. God truly blessed America with the life and leadership of Harry Reid, leader Harry Reid. May he rest in peace.

Thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right. The program will continue and kind words from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer. Let me bring in Dana Bash and Manu Raju.

Dana, your reaction to what we are hearing here.

BASH: Again, it is hard to capture Harry Reid, because of his complicated need of him. One fact check of the majority leader Chuck Schumer, who said that he did not text but he did text.

I was looking back at some of our texts. He was fighting pancreatic cancer and I was checking in on how he was and he said, not feeling well enough to run a marathon or go a couple of rounds sparring.

Still being treated for cancer, overall doing OK, feel fortunate. Last Saturday, Landra and I celebrated our 61st wedding anniversary.

And that really sums it up. Before the ceremony began we were talking about his love story with her. It looks like she was holding his hat, the love of his life and his partner even though obviously she did not serve, I know that she was very influential on him with a number of policy issues very quietly, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And a very kind goodbye happening from the Congress. As we are taking a look at Landra, Manu, Chuck Schumer said that they will continue to work that Reid dedicated himself to for so many years.

Very appropriate now that the debate over the filibuster is back again, because he had a real impact and major influence on that debate as well. RAJU: Yes, no question. His move in 2013 to change the Senate's

filibuster's rules to confirm nominations along straight party lines and that has ramifications that is still reverberating around the Senate now. And Schumer said Reid saw the Senate as an institution that needed to evolve.

Reid was dead set against that, because as worried as Joe Manchin is today in the long term. But he ultimately decided he needed to go that route because of his concerns about the way that the institution is performing.

And fast forward nine years later, it is exactly what the Senate is debating and trying to pass through sweeping reform as the Democrats are trying to do. And it is interesting to hear Schumer and Reid. They had such a personal relationship.

If it were not for Reid, Schumer would not be the leader. Reid elevated Schumer through the reigns of the Democratic caucus. And after Reid announced he would retire, it was Reid who decided that he would elevate, endorse Schumer to succeed him in the post.

And so Harry Reid's impact was so significant. While he did not want to talk about his legacy, as we heard from Nancy Pelosi, it was very real and one that people on Capitol Hill will remember for years to come.

Manu and Dana, thank you very much.

This program will continue. And we will turn our attention to other big headlines that we are looking at today, including the highest inflation we have seen in decades.

What will the Biden administration do to turn things around?

Details in a live report.