Remembering Reid: Senate's political punch-thrower says farewell, leaves trail of gaffes

Nevada lawmaker gives final address on Senate floor


Outgoing Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid delivered his farewell address Thursday after more than three decades in Congress – leaving in his wake a trail of gaffes and gloves-off political punches that won’t soon be forgotten.

Despite Reid’s reputation for rhetorical warfare, he and his adversaries set aside their differences for Thursday’s sendoff.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced Reid, D-Nev., highlighting a rarely seen friendship between the two.

“Go ahead and make up all the stories you want, but the truth is we don’t [despise one another],” Reid said. “Here’s one you can write: thank you, Mitch.”

Reid told stories from his childhood, explaining how his upbringing shaped his ideology and the agenda he pursued – namely, helping pass ObamaCare and focusing on suicide prevention. Reid's maneuvers on President Obama's behalf were also responsible for the passage of bills ranging from the economic stimulus package to the financial regulation overhaul. At the same time, Reid brought home major benefits to Nevada, funding countless projects, blocking a nuclear waste dump and helping protect many thousands of acres of wilderness. 

He acknowledged how much the political climate has changed over his time in Congress and closed by urging the next generation to uphold the integrity of the chamber.

“I hope that everyone would do everything they can to protect the Senate as an institution. As part of the Constitution, it should be given the dignity it deserves,” Reid said.

But Reid has played his own part in the coarsening of American politics. Here’s a look back at his more memorable and controversial comments from a 34-year congressional career.

Romney tax claim

During the 2012 general election season, Reid took to the Senate floor and boldly declared that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney had not paid taxes in 10 years.

The former Massachusetts governor, though, had released two years of tax returns, from 2010 and 2011, showing he had, in fact, paid close to $5 million in taxes in both years combined.

Fact-checkers were quick to call out Reid for his claim.

Reid never retracted the accusation, instead suggesting ends justified means.

He remarked, “Romney didn’t win, did he?”

Kennedy death upside?

At the height of Senate deliberations over ObamaCare in 2009, Reid openly discussed the political implications – and even upsides – of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death. Health care reform had been one of Kennedy’s highest priorities throughout his career, and Reid bluntly told the Reno Gazette-Journal, "I think it's going to help us."

‘Hottest member’

In one of his more cringe-worthy moments, Reid in 2010 reportedly described fellow Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand as “the hottest member” during a fundraiser she attended.

At the time, her office said Reid was merely referring to Gillibrand’s high ranking on The Hill’s “most beautiful” list. But some analysts still accused Reid of going well over the line by commenting on her looks.

‘Light-skinned’ Obama

In their book on the 2008 presidential campaign “Game Change,” journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann wrote that Reid described Obama as the kind of African-American president America was ready for – a “light-skinned” figure with “no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one.”

Reid apologized for the remarks, following their publication.

Hispanic Republicans, really?

During his re-election campaign in 2010, Reid told a room of predominately Hispanic voters he didn’t know how any could be Republicans:

"I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican, okay? Do I need to say more?"

‘Smell the tourists’

Reid had high hopes for the opening of the Capitol Visitor Center in 2008 – but apparently a low opinion of tourist hygiene.

Speaking about how the new center would improve the environment on the Hill, he said at a dedication ceremony:

"My staff has always said, 'Don't say this,' but I'm going to say it again because it's so descriptive because it's true. … In the summertime, because [of] the high humidity and how hot it gets here, you could literally smell the tourists coming into the Capitol."

Parting shot at Trump

As other top Democrats ranging from Nancy Pelosi to President Obama congratulated Donald Trump on his White House win last month, Reid took another direction.

He issued a 473-word statement saying Trump’s win has “emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry” as the country is overcome by “tears” and “fear.”  

"White nationalists, Vladimir Putin and ISIS are celebrating Donald Trump's victory, while innocent, law-abiding Americans are racked with fear -- especially African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Muslim Americans, LGBT Americans and Asian Americans. Watching white nationalists celebrate while innocent Americans cry tears of fear does not feel like America,” the retiring Nevada senator said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.