WASHINGTON — Democrats from Wisconsin who served with Harry Reid remembered the Nevada Democrat as a fighter in Washington for his constituents as his body lied in state at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
“Harry Reid was certainly a unique individual among politicians, among leaders,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin. “He was humble, he did not like to get extraordinary recognition. When he was finished making his point, he stopped. And yet that, I think, revealed this sort of humble man; somebody who was focused, was powerful, dogged about making the world better.”
Baldwin said she not only has fond memories of the former Senate majority leader, she has a scarf with the Senate seal on it that he and his wife gifted to her and her fellow freshman female senators in 2013.
“I wore it today in his memory and to have it close to my heart, frankly,” she said.
Celebrated for his fighting spirit, he overcame crushing poverty as a child to serve in Congress for more than three decades and become one of the most consequential lawmakers in Senate history.
Former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin said he admired Reid’s record and his personality.
“There's a lot of people that are pretty big on themselves in the Senate,” said Feingold. “He wasn't like that at all.”
But the two didn’t always see eye-to-eye. In 2010, Feingold was the only Democrat threatening to vote against Reid when racially insensitive comments Reid made about President Barack Obama emerged just as he was trying to become Senate majority leader.
“I don't specifically recall talking to him, but I do remember the incident,” he said. “And I do remember thinking that's really an inappropriate thing to say. And, you know, Harry didn't always articulate things exactly as he wanted to. It was not out of a ill will. But that certainly was not something that was appropriate. It was not only old fashioned, but not fitting of his general personality.”
Feingold would eventually vote for him after he apologized. Obama also accepted his apology. At his funeral over the weekend, the former president called Reid a true and loyal friend. His former colleagues say they’ll most miss his spirit of inclusivity.
“Senators have to feel that everybody has potentially a chance to have an impact, whatever the issue is, and Harry really understood that,” said Feingold. “I was a real pain in the neck. I was very liberal, far left, on a number of things. He said in the caucus, ‘there are some people in here who we need to listen to more.’ And he mentioned me and a couple other people. He gave me the opportunity that I never had before: to have influence. And he had that ability to make sure that nobody was really left out.”