WASHINGTON — After three decades in the Senate and four years in the House, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said goodbye to Congress today with a very lengthy floor speech and the unveiling of his official portrait as he handed off the reins to incoming Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Reid tallied up some stats for his final address, noting he’s had nearly 3,000 staffers during his decades on the Hill and has served alongside 281 different senators.
“When I came as Democratic senator, there was one woman, Barbara Mikulski. That was it, one woman. I’m very happy now that we have 17 Democratic women and we have four Republican women. And I want to just say, make the record very clear, the Senate is a better place because of women being here,” Reid said. “There is no question for many different reasons, but they’ve added so much to the Senate. The only problem we have now, there aren’t enough of them. But we did our best this go around. We got four new Democratic senators.”
“…Diversity, we don’t have enough diversity in the Senate but I do take credit for creating a diversity office with Democrats. Senator Schumer has indicated he’s going to continue that and I’m very happy he’s going to do that. We don’t have enough diversity, I repeat.”
Reid walked through stories from his childhood in Searchlight, Nev., and his thoughts on Senate leaders over the years — on former Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), “he wasn’t an experienced legislator but that’s OK; he was an experienced human being” — and called Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) “my man, my cousin.” On Schumer: “He won’t be me, but he’ll do a good job.”
“What is the future of the Senate? I would hope that everyone would do everything they can to protect the Senate as an institution. As part of our Constitution, it should be given the dignity it deserves. I love the Senate. I don’t need to dwell on that. I love the Senate. I care about it so very, very much. I’ve enjoyed Congress for 34 years. I have, as the leader here in the Senate, I have had such joy and times of oh, wow, what are we going to do now. That’s what these jobs are like,” Reid said. “They are so exhilarating until oh, man, something happens and I think all of you have done like I have just said, wow, what are we going to do now? The Senate has changed, some for the good, some for the bad.”
Reid boasted that while in Washington, he skipped nearly every Washington shindig. He’s only attended one congressional picnic — “that was because my son Key had a girlfriend and he wanted to impress her, and I guess he did because they’re married” — and one state dinner, because his son Rory wanted to meet the president of Argentina.
“I have never been to a White House Congressional Ball like the one that’s going to be held tonight. I guess I’m inquisitive of how it would be, but I don’t want to go. I’ve seen one World Series. That was enough. I’ve been to one Super Bowl. That was plenty,” he continued.
Speakers at the portrait unveiling later in the day included Vice President Joe Biden, who reminisced on all the times that Reid would “cajole and intimidate” members of his caucus to get Dem votes in line with the White House.
Schumer also spoke, as well as House Minority Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Hillary Clinton — “she’s a skilled statesman – or, I don’t know how you put it, stateswoman or whatever,” Reid said — and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“Everyone, I know you don’t like the story, but Mitch McConnell and I are friends,” Reid said.
Earlier in the day, on the Senate floor, McConnell paid tribute to his colleague: “I wanted to throw fastballs for the Dodgers. Harry wanted to play center field at Fenway. We wound up as managers of two unruly franchises instead.”
“It’s clear that Harry and I have two very different worldviews, two different ways of doing things, and two different sets of legislative priorities. But, through the years, we’ve come to understand some things about one another, and we’ve endeavored to keep our disagreements professional, rather than personal,” McConnell said. “We’ve also found some common ground through baseball.”