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White House Aides And CDC Scientists Frustrated By CDC Messaging; Funeral Underway For Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; Obama Delivers Eulogy At Harry Reid's Funeral. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired January 08, 2022 - 15:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant is turning thousands of Americans into hospital patients. And now some non-COVID patients are being turned away. Across 40 New York hospitals the state health department says people who need surgeries that are considered non- urgent will have to wait at least two weeks as COVID patients are taking up all of the beds.

And across the nation many COVID patients are too young to get a vaccine. The U.S. is seeing a record number of COVID hospitalizations for kids under 5. New hospital admissions for children under age 18 are already at a record level, averaging nearly 800 per day.

It is fueling the debate playing out across the country when and how should students return to the classroom. Right now students in the nation's third largest school district are in limbo. A standoff began after the Chicago Teachers Union voted to teach remotely and as the school district pushes for in-person learning it has cancelled classes since Wednesday.

In Georgia public school teachers and staff -- get this -- who test positive for COVID no longer have to isolate before returning to work as long as they wear a mask. Contact tracing is no longer required. Meanwhile, the state -- the Supreme Court's conservative majority appears ready to block President Biden's vaccine requirement aimed at large businesses. This effort hangs in the balance as the administration also deals with a messaging problem.

White House aides and scientists are said to be frustrated by communication missteps by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC leader who one year vowed to restore trust in the agency, is struggling to do that right now.

Let's go to CNN's Arlette Saenz at the White House.

Arlette, what is Dr. Walensky doing to address this issue? Can she regain the confidence of people in that building behind you?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is certainly trying to. And yesterday she held her first independent media briefing since the summer, telling reporters that she is committed to trying to continue to improve, even as frustrations are mounting within the White House and the CDC regarding some of the messaging missteps that Walensky has made.

Now CNN has learned that Walensky has been working with a Democratic media consultant, Mandy Grunwald, for months to try to better learn who to communicate some of these CDC guidances out to the public. But both Walensky and the CDC have come under criticism most recently when it comes to that guidance related to the isolation period for COVID-19 positive patients.

When the CDC announced they were shortening that isolation period from 10 to five days, some confusion ensued in the days after. They eventually released some more guidance relating a little bit to testing. But it's coming at a time when Americans are looking for clarity about how to live with this virus.

Now the -- it's not just the messaging problems that are coming under scrutiny. There are some scientists within the CDC, CNN has learned, who are also frustrated with how this guidance has come together, as Walensky has been consulting just a small group of advisers to release this guidance.

But in addition to these issues with the CDC, the White House is also grappling with other challenges as well, specifically when it comes to the issue of testing. As we have seen nationwide, these shortages and access to tests really have been difficult to find over the course of the past few weeks with COVID surging. And yesterday President Biden addressed what he believes the state of COVID-19 will be in the future and whether it will stay here in the country for the long haul.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don't think COVID is here to stay. But having COVID in the environment here and in the world is probably here to stay. But COVID, as we're dealing with it now, is not here to stay. The new normal doesn't have to be -- we have so many more tools we're developing and continue to develop, that can contain COVID and other strains of COVID. The new normal is not going to be what it is now. It's going to be better.


SAENZ: So confronting the coronavirus really remains the top challenge for the Biden administration, as how the president responds to this will ultimately determine his performance in office over the course of the next few years.

ACOSTA: All right, Arlette, I'd say that's just about right. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

With me now is former Baltimore health commissioner and CNN medical analyst, Dr. Leana Wen, who is also a contributing columnist over at the "Washington Post."

[15:05:01] Dr. Wen, great to see you. I want to start with our CNN reporting that Walensky got some media training last fall to help with her messaging struggles. Was that a necessary step? Does this go deeper than a messaging problem? I mean, I suspect it does.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think Dr. Walensky is an excellent communicator. I actually don't think that her communication style is the problem. The problem is the policy itself. I mean, you can have the best messenger. But if what they're dealing with is a message that's problematic, that is the barrier. And that's been the issue throughout. You look back in May when the CDC prematurely removed masks without --

ACOSTA: We lost Dr. Wen there. Oh, goodness. All right. Well, she's on to making just a great point there. Let's see. Can we get her back, guys? What do you think? She is not coming back. All right. Dr. Wen's shot is frozen. We're going to try to get back to her as soon as we can.

In the meantime, let's take a quick break. We're going to be talking about the life of Harry Reid, the former Democratic leader in the Senate. Current and former presidents, lawmakers, family members, friends are all paying tribute to this legend of the Senate. We can go to Jeff Zeleny I believe right now if he is standing by. Is that right?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, and that's right. The funeral service is underway.

ACOSTA: Thanks.

ZELENY: I am, Jim. Yes, the funeral service is under way now. The fifth child of Harry and Landra Reid, Rory Reid, is speaking right now. And so far this has been a family centered funeral as you can see. One of his granddaughters spoke and then all five children, as well as a musical performance by the Killers, a Nevada band and a favorite of Harry Reid.

We are, of course, waiting momentarily for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a longtime lieutenant of Harry Reid, to speak, as well as Speaker Pelosi. But then, of course, former President Barack Obama will be delivering a eulogy and it is impossible to state just a close connection and the legacies, the intertwined legacies, and records of former President Obama and Harry Reid.

But nor for Harry Reid, the Affordable Care Act would not have been passed. The economic stimulus measure as you and I covered, Jim, at the time would not have been passed. So certainly former President Obama will be talking about the personal relationship that he enjoyed with Senator Reid. And then of course President Biden will close the service here, delivering remarks as well. A longtime colleague in the Senate and very close friend of Harry Reid as well.

So on a beautiful day here in Las Vegas, mourners gathered inside to celebrate the life and legacy of Harry Reid -- Jim. ACOSTA: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thanks for bailing us out there. Mark

of a true professional broadcast journalist ready to go at any moment. Thanks so much.

I think Dr. Leana Wen is back with us in the great city of Baltimore. Can we go back to Dr. Wen? Great to see you, Dr. Wen.

WEN: Hi, Jim.

ACOSTA: OK. We just heard from Jeff Zeleny. He's covering the funeral of the late Senator Harry Reid. We're going to go back to Jeff and what's going on there in just a little bit. But I want to get back to you, Dr. Wen, because we were just in the middle of that discussion about what's going on at the White House and some of these concerns about Dr. Walensky's messaging issues, and how she's, you know, worked with a consultant and so on.

And you were just making the point that it's not really the messaging that's the issue here. Let's go back to that point and then continue the discussion.

WEN: Right, the issue is not the message. The issue is what is the policy behind the message? Because you look at the isolation guidelines, you can have the best messenger communicating it. But ultimately the problem is, are people really safe to come out of isolation after five days? Do we need testing as something that you need in order to clear someone from isolation? Or you look at the booster policy.

There was so much -- the misstep was not around the communication around the booster policy. It was, are boosters needed in the first place? And so I think the CDC really needs to have a hard reset, led by Dr. Walensky, but ultimately supported and driven by the White House as well about what is the CDC's role, and how can they get better at formulating their policies in a transparent and accountable way?

ACOSTA: And Dr. Wen, you know, I wonder if it's a messaging issue or it's people not getting the message issue to a large extent. I want to talk about schools because under a new state order Georgia public school teachers who test positive for COVID-19 but remain asymptomatic may return to school if they wear a mask. That sounds pretty risky to me and it stands in stark contrast with policies that are in place in other parts of the country, for example in Chicago where the teachers don't want to go to the classroom right now.

And you have all these kids who are in limbo because the teachers union, they want more testing, they want more contact tracing. We're all over the place in this country.


So, you know, my question is, is how is the White House supposed to get the message right if everybody is just all over the place?

WEN: Well, the role of the CDC and the White House is to provide guidance that ideally everybody is supposed to follow. But right now we have two sides, if you will, and neither side has it right. Because on the one hand you have governors who are actively stopping the very protections that would actually help schools to reopen safely, requiring masks, for example, or making sure that people if they test positive go home and are not around others.

Those are best practices that can be easily implemented. But on the other hand you have a lot of other people mainly in blue states and blue jurisdictions that are taking exactly the opposite approach. They are acting as if we're back in 2020 or 2021. We're not. We're dealing with a variant Omicron in this case that's much milder than previous variants. We also have vaccines and boosters available to everyone who wants them all kids over age of 5 and adults are able to be vaccinated.

And so if you're vaccinated and boosted, the chance of you becoming severely ill from COVID especially Omicron is extremely low. And so there's no reason for schools not to be open for in-person instruction at this point, too.

ACOSTA: So do you think that Georgia is maybe not going far enough and Chicago is going too far? Is that what it sounds like to you? Or do you think it's OK what they're doing down in Georgia, teachers who test positive but are asymptomatic can go to school if they're masked?

WEN: Look, I can understand why people are very worried about this policy. But at the same time I also think there needs to be a conversation to be had about who are essential workers, without whom our economy and our society will completely be disrupted? We do have the CDC already saying that if hospitals are at crisis point, health care workers who are infected can go to work as long as they're wearing a mask and should we put more essential workers in that category?

I also think we need to have a conversation about, are our infection control measures even going to work against Omicron? Testing, contact tracing, isolation quarantine, these are our best tools if you can get an infection under control. But if Omicron is so widespread that we're only catching a small fraction of cases anyway, maybe it's not so effective if we're just identifying those who test positive when there are so many others out there.

So I think that's a conversation that the White House really needs to be leading at this point. Are we just going to come to terms with the fact that Omicron has to burn through our society?

ACOSTA: It's a great question. And we're in the thick of it right now. All right, Dr. Wen, thanks so much for hanging in there. We got you back and we're so grateful for that. Thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

WEN: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. And right now, the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is speaking at Harry Reid's funeral out there in Nevada. Let's listen in. SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Now, at first I thought Harry pulled me in

this little bathroom because he didn't Landra to see him wasting $400 on the Senate's worst dressed member. But when I asked Harry about it later he said to me he didn't want to embarrass me in front of Landra. That was Harry to a tee.

It was no secret that Harry didn't care for the decorum of public office but he did know how to dress his part, cut his hair regularly, he shined his shoes, he wore nice suits from clothiers like Hickey Freeman that I couldn't afford.

But a few years later I got the better of Harry when I showed up to the Senate wearing a Hickey Freeman suit of my own. Harry was surprised. He said, Chuck, I thought you said you could never afford a Hickey Freeman suit. I told him I can so I visited the warehouse in Rochester and bought one at a wholesale price. Harry stopped slipping me money for clothes after that.

Now to be clear I don't just travel around the state looking for good deals on clothing. For example, as many of you know, every year I attend and speak at dozens of college graduation ceremonies around New York every May and June. Harry, of course, knew about this tradition and he thought it was hilarious. In fact, he liked it so much that one day he gathered all 100 of his staffers into his office and asked me to deliver the entire 15-minute speech to all of them.

But after I became Democratic leader he started to worry about my habit. Every graduation season he would call up my wife Iris who is here today and plead with her. You got to stop him from going to every graduation and every event. He's got to garner his strength and his health. That's just who Harry was if you were lucky enough -- lucky enough that he cared about you and called you his friend, and he cared about you with every fiber of his being.


Sometimes you could even say he cared a little too much. You know, Landra wasn't the only woman I've seen Harry kiss passionately on the lips. It was back in 2006 Harry and I were watching the election returns together. They announced our --


ACOSTA: Right now in Las Vegas House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is about to pay tribute to former Senate majority leader Harry Reid. There she is taking the podium. Let's listen in.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It is indeed a great honor to join this tribute to the towering titan of public service, Senator Harry Reid. Wasn't it deeply moving for all of us to hear Lana and Rory and Leif and Josh and Key speak so lovingly of their father. You, his children, along with his many precious grandchildren, his darling great grandchild are his greatest pride.

[15:20:03] But hearing you speak about him shows us what a source of strength you are to him. Of course the love and happiness he shared with his adoring and beautiful wife Landra was a source of joy to all of us who know them. All of us here today are here personally to celebrate the life of our dear friend Harry. Some of us, including two presidents of the United States and vice presidents, members of both the Senate and the House, are also here officially to salute a legendary statesman.

I have the privilege as speaker of the House to bring the sympathy of the House of Representatives where Harry once served. Chuck will say not as long as he served in the Senate, but I do lay claim to Harry because that's where I first met him. I wasn't in Congress then. But he was in the House and he was running for the United States Senate. It was 1985 in time for 1986 election, George Marcus is here who took up his cause in San Francisco.

My husband Paul is here and Harry was of a high priority for us in winning the Senate. So as speaker of the House I'm pleased to join our distinguished majority leader. Steny Hoyer, our members of the Nevada delegation, Dina Titus, Steve Horsford, and Susie Lee, to bring greetings of all our colleagues to someone we all viewed as a great person.

I have to a great deal I want to say about Harry. But you know Harry he was a man of few words and he wanted everybody else to be a person of few words. And, again, we'll go to the phone calls because I am modestly say that I probably got hung up on the most by Harry Reid. Two or three times a day for 12 years. That is official working days. Sometimes Saturday and Sunday.

But anyway, even if we had really succinct conversations, Harry, subject, this, problem, this. Timing, this. Even if that succinct, click, click, so sometimes I even called him back and said, Harry, I was singing your praises. I was thanking you for the great job you did in the legislation and the rest. I don't want to hear it. Click. I even said to him when he was announcing his retirement --

ACOSTA: And there is one of many anecdotes you're going to hear throughout the afternoon. There is one there from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the funeral for the late Democratic senator leader Harry Reid.

I want to bring in CNN's chief political correspondent and co-anchor of STATE OF THE UNION" Dana Bash, CNN senior political analyst and former adviser to four presidents, David Gergen, and Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," Susan Page to talk about what we're seeing this afternoon.

Dana, of course let me start with you. You know Harry Reid so well, you covered him for so many years. He may have been famous for his soft-spoken delivery and he was soft-spoken. But he was as you know at one time an amateur boxer. He once said, I wasn't the fastest guy, I wasn't the strongest, but I sure could take a punch. How did that mentality carry over into his political career?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It entirely carried over into his political career. And I'm glad that you chose that quote because so many of us in the immediate hours and days after Senator Reid passed away late last month, we talked about the fact that he could throw a punch. But he really could take a punch. And that was such a hallmark of his whole political career.

He didn't mind being the bad guy. And, you know, his critics say, even to this day, that that meant contributing to the -- to the discourse, to the sort of toxic discourse that we have now. And, you know, he would probably say that might be true. But he didn't mind taking the fall for what he saw as the greater good.

And it's such a different dynamic, Jim, that we're seeing today, which is that nobody -- almost nobody in politics is willing to put what they see as the greater good over their own political ambitions or more importantly their own political -- their own political reputation. And he didn't care. And that absolutely came from the fact that he felt like he had nothing to lose because he came from nothing. I went to Searchlight, Nevada, with him, Jim, where he grew up. It was literally a truck stop.


He grew up in place with no running water. His brother, he talks about his brother writhing in pain when he broke his leg and he just had to deal with it. They couldn't even get upset because they didn't have money for health care. Those kinds of anecdotes, that kind of upbringing is what led him and was kind of his North Star in his politics and in his policy desires.

ACOSTA: So true. And Susan Page, how incredible is it to think that, as Dana was just saying, a man who grew in a home with no running water, fought his way through poverty to become one of the most powerful leaders in Washington. They just named the airport in Las Vegas after Harry Reid.

I know you got to interview him back in 2019. What did he tell you about that? What did he say at the time about that?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: You know, I interviewed him in 2019. At that point he had retired. He was battling pancreatic cancer and with some difficulty. But he was -- as Dana knows, he was never -- he was always feisty. He did reminisce a little about growing up in Searchlight. And he said that -- he told me when he was growing up he never realized how destitute he and his family were, how many things they didn't have.

It was just the way things were. And he said it was after his brother died as an adult and his niece was going through some pictures and sent him some old photographs that showed the shack that he had grown up. And he said it was only then he fully realized how terrible those circumstances had been. And for a person who was born into those kind of difficult circumstances to today be eulogized at his funeral by two American presidents is really quite a remarkable American story.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. And David Gergen, I mean, just to jump off of what Susan was saying, you worked with several presidents, and former President Barack Obama is delivering the eulogy, or one of the eulogies today for Harry Reid. He said he couldn't have been president potentially without Harry Reid. Reid was one of the, you know, big leaders in the Democratic Party at the time planning the idea in his head that it would be a good idea for him to run for president.

What does that say? We know that Harry Reid was very proud of the fact that Barack Obama gave him a lot of credit for that run. What are your thoughts?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think to become one of the most consequential people in American and public life speak well of Harry Reid and that everybody looks up to him because he was -- he was tough. And listen, to the fighting point, he was a fighter. And he wanted to get things done. And he did.

Barack Obama is one of his legacies. So is the Affordable Care Act. And so was the effort made to shore up the economy back in the 2008, 2009, 2010 period. So he did great things. But what distinguishes from so many of the people who are in politics today is he believed and was a supporter of the institutions of our democracy.

He really believed in Congress and the importance of the Congress. He believed in the importance of the presidency. And what we're seeing today of course is people went out and undermining these very institutions and raising questions about whether America is headed towards some sort of civil war. You know, we trust that's not going to happen. But nonetheless we've moved to a time when it's actually in the public discourse whether that might happen.

ACOSTA: So true. All right. Well, thanks very much for those insights all of you. Stand by, though, if you could because we're going to take a quick break, come back, we expect former President Barack Obama to speak shortly at the funeral for Harry Reid, and we'll pick this conversation up after the break. Be right back.



ACOSTA: And welcome back.

Barack Obama, former President Barack Obama is now delivering a eulogy for Harry Reid.

Let's listen in.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Most of all, to Harry's beloved Landra, the Reid children and grandchildren, friends and former staff, it's a great honor to be with you today to pay tribute to my friend, Harry Reid.

Now, to be clear, and as Chuck mentioned in his remarks, I suspect Harry himself would not have wanted to sit through this thing.

Harry did not like being the center of attention. It made him a little awkward. He was uncomfortable when people said too many nice things about him.

But as he looks down on us today, Harry is going to have to suck it up.

Because few people have done more for this state and this country than this driven, brilliant, sometimes irascible, deeply good man from Searchlight, Nevada.


I first met Harry back in 2005 after I'd been elected to the Senate and Harry had been elevated to become Democratic leader. And I was the sole African-American in the Senate at the time, a mixed kid with a funny name.

And given how different our backgrounds were, I did not know how well Harry and I would hit it off.

He was older, of course. His kids were grown. I didn't know what kind of music he liked. But I figured he didn't listen to Jay-Z.

On the issues, he had a reputation for being a little more conservative than I was, reflecting the politics of his western state.

So he invited me to his office for a chat shortly after I'd been sworn in. There was not a lot of small talk. In fact, there was not a lot of talk at all.

He asked me what committee assignments I wanted. I told him. He said he'd see what he could do. Half the time his voice was so soft I could barely hear what he was saying.

Afterwards, my senior colleague from Illinois, Dick Durbin, asked me how it went. I said, man, I don't know. The whole conversation lasted maybe 10 minutes. He did not seem particularly pleased with my taking up his time.

Don't worry, Dick said, if Harry didn't like you, it would have only lasted five minutes.

That was Harry. As has been observed, Harry was not a schmoozer or a back slapper. He did not regal you with long drawn-out stories and he did not appreciate long, drawn out stories.

Despite the years he spent in Congress, despite all the power he wielded, his reputation as being the consummate Washington insider, what I came to realize was that Harry always remained something of an outsider in Washington.

Which makes sense, given the remarkable path to the Senate that he had taken, a path that was at least as unlikely if not more unlikely than mine.

Others have mentioned Harry's extraordinary journey out of Searchlight, a tiny desert town, an hour away from just about everywhere. How Harry had to hitchhike more than 40 miles each way to Henderson

and stay with relatives just to go to high school.

How he put himself through college and law school, moonlighting as a uniformed Capitol Police officer to help cover tuition and support a young family.

Fair to say it was not easy. There must have been times where he felt doubt about achieving his dreams.

Like the time when his car broke down and he walked into the dean's office to say he wasn't sure if he could afford to finish school.

As Harry remember it, the dean looked him up and down and said, Mr. Reid, why don't you just quit? That dean did not know Harry Reid's character.

Like others who would later underestimate the man, hardship had forged a steel in Harry, a fighting spirit that explained his success in the boxing ring, despite being significantly undersized.

He liked to talk about his boxing. You know, Barack, I wasn't a great athlete. I wasn't big and strong like some of the guys I went up against.

But I had two things going for me. I could take a punch, and I never gave up. That's about right.

And that same dogged determination marked Harry Reid's political career.


He lost his first Senate race by just 600 votes. Six months later, he ran for mayor of this town and lost in a landslide.

But Harry did not give up. He got himself a seat in the House, then the Senate. Finally, became Senate majority leader.

And let's face it, he enjoyed every minute of proving doubters wrong again, and again and again.

Sometimes the people who motivate us the most, Harry would later say, are the ones who believe in us the least.

So, yes, being tough, being a fighter, was one of Harry's singular characteristics.

Apparently, once, a staffer handed him a -- some draft remarks in which he was supposed to refer to himself as a former boxer, and Harry crossed out the word "former." He was 70 years old at the time.

But there were other aspects to Harry's character that helped explain his extraordinary achievements. Qualities that, at this particular moment in our history, seem especially relevant.

First and foremost, Harry was a pragmatist.

At a time when so many Americans across the political spectrum apply strict purity tests to our politicians, demanding they toe the line on just about every issue, at a time when so often compromise is portrayed at weakness, Harry had a different view.

He didn't believe in high-falluting theories or ridged ideologies.

He thought most people make decisions based on their life experience, based on immediate needs of their families, based on their own self- interest, no matter what they may tell themselves.

As a result, Harry met people where they were. Not where he wanted them to be.

And he was willing to cut deals, even with folks he didn't agree with or particularly like.

I heard Nancy Pelosi say she never heard Harry say anything bad about any of his colleagues.

I don't know about that, Nancy.


OBAMA: But he would work with them.

I love Nancy but --


OBAMA: But he would work with them if that's what it took to move things forward.

In a battle between perfection and progress, Harry always chose progress. And that pragmatism made Harry adaptable.

When he first got to Washington, Harry's voting record wasn't so different than those who represented his state in the past, holding traditional positions on issues like gun rights, immigration, reproductive health.

But as Nevada and the country changed, as Harry met more and more people from different walks of life and realized their struggles weren't that different from his family's had been in Searchlight, Harry's views on some of these issues changed as well.

He didn't consider that a weakness. He understood that he wasn't always going to be right about everything.

He knew how to listen and to learn. He was humble enough to admit when he had to change his mind and grow.

And by the way, speaking from personal experience, it helps when you're married to somebody who is wiser and brighter than you. I know something about that. After Harry introduced a bill repealing birth right citizenship in the

1990s, for example, Landra pointed out that her own father had been a Russian immigrant.


Later Harry would say, "I came to the realization that I was way off base. I'm so glad she righted the ship."

Now, of course, there are plenty of politicians who change their positions just because they want to get re-elected. They've got their fingers out to the wind. They're interested in clinging to power for its own sake.

But for Harry, the whole point of holding office, the whole point of wielding power was to actually get things done on behalf of those he represented.

During his time as leader, that is exactly what he did. He got things done.

Without Harry, we would not have passed the Recovery Act, helping to prevent another Great Depression.

Without Harry, we wouldn't have saved people's jobs, helped people stay in their homes.

Without, Harry we would not have passed Wall Street reform, reining in some of the worst abuses of the financial industry.

Without Harry, there would be no Affordable Care Act.

People forget that there were many times during the debate over health care reform when it looked like nothing was going to get passed.

But Harry, working with Nancy Pelosi in the House, working with then- vice-president and now president, my partner in this fight, Joe Biden, Harry refused to give up.

Maneuvering and applying pressure like only he could. The deals Harry made to get that law done didn't always look pretty. They got votes.

Whenever I would object to a change he wanted to make, whether because of some policy concerns, or worries about the optics, Harry would tell me, with some exasperation in his voice, "Mr. President, you know a lot more than I do about health care policy, OK. But I know the Senate."

And he was right. Harry did know the Senate, better than just about anyone else.

More importantly, he understood why the work we were doing mattered.

Growing up, Harry's family didn't have health care. He told me he didn't even know what it was.

When Harry's brother broke his leg, he stayed in bed and waited for it to heal. His father needed a tooth removed, he yanked it out himself.

Harry remembered those times. He knew what that was like.

So when Harry put everything he had into passing the ACA, he didn't do to burnish his own legacy. He did it for people back home and families like his, who needed someone looking out for them when nobody else was.

Harry got things done.

And here is another thing that set Harry apart. He was always unfailingly himself.

That may not sound exceptional. But in Washington, it's an exceedingly rare quality.

Harry was the first to admit he wasn't the most charismatic or politically correct speaker.

After a press conference, he would sometimes go up to a staffer and say, OK, tell me everything I did wrong.

But Harry knew who he was. And he had the distinct advantage of not really caring what other people thought of him.

In a town obsessed with appearances, Harry he didn't like phonies. He didn't like grand standing.

He was proud of the fact he didn't own a tuxedo. When he had to go to fund-raisers, he would try to get out in under 10 minutes.

And apparently, the only White House congressional picnic Harry ever attended was for his son Key's benefit. Key wants to impress a girl he was dating at the time.


He and Meile (ph) ended up getting married. So Harry grudgingly admitted it was worth the sacrifice.

Finally, for all of Harry's toughness, all his hard-nosed views about politics, Harry loved his family. Loved his staff.

And Harry was a true and loyal friend. During my time in the Senate, he was more generous to me than I had any right to expect.

He was one of the first people to encourage me to run for president, believing that despite my youth and despite my inexperience, despite the fact that I was African-American, I could actually win. At the time, made one of us.

You wanted Harry in the foxhole with you. His willingness to fight by my side, to stick with me even when things weren't going my way, my poll numbers had gone down and some Democrats thought it might be prudent to maintain a healthy distance from me.

His willingness to be there, fight, would last throughout my presidency, it's a debt to him that I could never fully repay.

I remember, toward the end of my time in the White House, Michelle and I invited Harry, along with Joe and Jill, Nancy, Paul, Chuck and Iris.

During the meal, Harry was his usual curmudgeon self. He would mutter about this and that, food was pretty good.


OBAMA: But generally, he was keeping his own counsel.

But at the end of the night -- those who were there I suspect will remember this. I sure do. Harry suddenly asked for everyone's attention.

"Listen," he said, "everybody here knows that I don't show a lot of emotion, OK. That's just how I grew up. I just want to say I'm really proud of what I've done with this president and I love this guy."

And then, without any warning, he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.

I think it's fair to say that we were all surprised. And I laughed. I said, "Thanks, Harry. I love you too, man." And I put my arm around him.

Which I think was too much for him.


OBAMA: Because he said, "Well, OK then, it's past my bedtime." And with that, he and Landra headed for the door.

Pragmatism, capability, a premium on getting things done, lack of pretension, abiding loyalty. That's what Harry Reid represents. A man of old-school virtues.

These are qualities that are in short supply these days. Yet, it seems to me they are precisely the qualities our democracy requires.

Harry understood we don't have to see eye to eye on everything in order to live together and be decent toward each other. That we can learn to bridge differences in background, and race and region.


He knew that our system of government isn't based on demanding that everybody think exactly the same way. In fact, it presumes that, in a country as big and diverse as ours, people rarely will, but we can still work together.

Harry may have been a proud Democratic partisan. He didn't shy away from bare-knuckle politics.

But what's true is that I never heard Harry speak of politics as if it was some unbending battle between good and evil. Because he knew what was true for himself was true for everybody. That

we're all a bundle of contradictions. We all have our flaws.

But despite all that, it was possible for us to affirm our collective humanity because that's what made America great.

Once we both left office, I didn't see much of Harry. But we'd call each other on the phone from time to time.

He'd tell me about Landra and he'd speak with great pride about his kids and grandkids and all that they were doing. Told me about his illness and treatments he was going through. And always keeping him busy.

At some point during those calls, he'd usually mention somebody he'd run into who had thanked him for getting them health care or saved their job.

And particularly, in recent months, maybe knowing he didn't have much time left, he'd allow himself a hint of nostalgia and talk about how, together, we'd made a darn good team. That we had done pretty well for the American people.

As I'd start to reply, yes, he would cut me off.


OBAMA: OK, then, Mr. President, he'd say, and hang up.

The whole conversation would last about five minutes. But in those five minutes, he'd communicate more than some folks do in a couple of hours.

That's who Harry was. A man who knew what was important and didn't believe in dwelling on what wasn't.

One former colleague explained it by saying to Harry, good-bye was an unnecessary word. It might not have been necessary for Harry, but it is for us.

Good-bye, Harry. Thank you for everything. A man has never had a greater champion in the Senate. And country benefitted from your extraordinary leadership.

And I could not have asked for a better, truer friend.

Sure did love you back

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, Mr. President, Barack, I have to tell you, every time I hear a dial tone, I think of Harry.

You all think I'm kidding. I'm not.


Jill and I are here for Harry, but he -- he would want us to really be here for just him.