Former President Barack Obama joked that he was unsure if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement that Harry Reid never said a bad word about anyone was true. But he said the late senator was always agreeable to working with others.
Obama described the first meeting he had with Reid when he was elected to the Senate in 2005.
“There wasn’t a lot of small talk. In fact, there wasn’t a lot of talk at all,” Obama said. “Half the time his voice was so soft, I could barely hear what he was saying.”
After the conversation, Obama said, Senator Dick Durbin asked how it went.
“I said, ‘I don’t know. The whole conversation lasted maybe 10 minutes. He did not seem particularly pleased with my taking up his time,'” Obama said. “‘Don’t worry,’ Dick said. ‘If Harry didn’t like you it would’ve only lasted five minutes.’ That was Harry.”
The former president also recalled that Reid told him that, even though Reid wasn’t an athlete,he could take a punch and he never gave up.
“That same dogged determination marked Harry’s career,” he said, highlighting the late politician’s failed campaigns before he finally made it to the Senate. “But Harry did not give up.”
“So yes, being tough, being a fighter, was one of Harry’s singular characteristics,” Obama said.
The former president said Reid knew how to listen and learn, and commended him on having the ability to change his opinion on certain issues.
Obama also discussed his signature piece of legislation,the Affordable Care Act, saying it would not have passed without Reid’s hard work. “Harry refused to give up, applying pressure like only he could,” Obama said.
“For all of Harry’s toughness – all of his hard-nosed views about politics – Harry loved his family, loved his staff,” he said. “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,” Obama said. “He was one of the first people to encourage me to run for president, believing that, despite my youth, despite my inexperience, despite the fact that I was African American, I could actually win. Which, at the time, made one of us.”
He said Reid fought by his side during his campaign and throughout his presidency. “It’s a debt to him that I could never fully repay,” Obama said.
The two men occasionally spoke on the phone after they both left office, Obama said.
“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,” Obama said. “That’s who Harry was – a man who knew what was important and didn’t believe in dwelling on what wasn’t.”
Obama cited a former colleague of Reid’s who said the senator didn’t say goodbye. But, the former president said, those gathered on Saturday needed to say it to him.
“Goodbye, Harry. Thank you for everything. Nevada has never had a greater champion. The Senate and the country benefited from your extraordinary leadership, and I could not have asked for a better, truer friend. I sure did love you back.”