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(WASHINGTON) — Congressional lawmakers on Wednesday paid tribute to former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as he was given the rare honor of lying in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
Reid died at age 82 on Dec. 28 following complications from pancreatic cancer.
As a military color guard carried Reid’s casket, lawmakers gathered at the top of the Capitol steps with hands over their hearts.
Vice President Kamala Harris was among those attending the tribute.
Reid, a former amateur boxer from the small town of Searchlight, Nevada, and considered a sometimes ruthless yet revered politician, was being remembered by colleagues for his nearly four-decade-long career in Congress, which he built from the ground up, eventually carving out his role as one of the most powerful people in government. It was under Reid that the Senate passed then-President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act — landmark legislation of his presidency.
While a visit to the Capitol Rotunda was not on President Joe Biden’s schedule for Wednesday, he made an unannounced stop in the afternoon to pay his respects to a man he served with in the Senate.
Biden spent a moment in silence at Reid’s casket, made the Sign of the Cross and then laid his hand on the American flag draped over the casket and then on a wreath placed nearby, before slowly exiting the Rotunda.
Wednesday’s services began with a ceremonial arrival shortly after 10:30 a.m., ahead of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi making remarks on Reid’s life and legacy.
“Few have shaped the workings of this building like our dear friend from Nevada,” said Schumer, who served with Reid in the Senate and has credited the late lawmaker for elevating him to leadership. “Few have dedicated their lives to the work of the people quite like Harry did. Today, our feelings of both loss and gratitude are immense.”
Schumer shared that “the only time I ever saw Harry” cry was when his wife of 61 years, Landra, was injured in a serious car accident. Landra was also on hand for the ceremony and held onto his hat as she paid tribute to her partner.
Speaking after Schumer, Pelosi recalled Reid’s humble roots.
“Before Harry entered the political arena, he could hold his own in the boxing ring,” Pelosi said. “So it is fitting to close, I think, by quoting Muhammad Ali, who Harry admired and whose immortal words capture Harry’s fighting spirit.”
She continued, “Muhammad Ali said, ‘Impossible is not a declaration. It is a dare.’ Harry would be the first to admit that he wasn’t 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. Harry Reid made the world a better place.”
“History will remember him as one of the most consequential Senate majority leaders of all time,” Pelosi added.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Reid’s longtime Republican counterpart, who has called the late senator a “pivotal figure” in Senate history despite their disagreements, was on hand for the ceremony, as well as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Following Schumer and Pelosi’s remarks, all four congressional leaders laid wreaths at Reid’s casket and bowed their heads in a moment of silence.
A casket viewing, not open to the public due to COVID-19 protocols, was to follow from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The day was to conclude with a ceremonial departure on the Capitol’s East Center Steps at 5 p.m.
Reid’s funeral in Las Vegas on Saturday was also joined by President Joe Biden, Obama and other Democratic Party leaders. There, speakers fondly recounted Reid’s self-described personality quirks cultivated after decades in office, including constantly dismissing praise of his work, curt responses and abruptly hanging up on colleagues.
Pelosi on Wednesday joked that she probably “holds the record” for being hung up on the most by Reid, still the longest-serving senator in Nevada state history.
Former Sen. Bob Dole was the last person to lie in state in the Capitol.
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson and Libby Cathey contributed to this report.
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