Former US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has died

As Senate Democratic leader for more than a decade, he played a significant role in passing the Affordable Care Act and guiding through Congress pivotal economic recovery legislation.

  Reid works in his office while congressional negotiators work on a bailout package for the current financial and banking crisis, at the US Capitol in Washington (photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST/FILE PHOTO)
Reid works in his office while congressional negotiators work on a bailout package for the current financial and banking crisis, at the US Capitol in Washington
(photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST/FILE PHOTO)

Former US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada who served in the Senate from 1987 to 2017, has died at age 82 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, Senator Chuck Schumer said in a statement on Tuesday.

"He was my leader, my mentor, one of my dearest friends," Schumer said. "He's gone but he will walk by the sides of many of us in the Senate every single day."

Over more than three decades of service in Congress, Reid, a former boxer-turned-lawyer known for his motto “I would rather dance than fight, but I know how to fight," earned a reputation for fighting relentlessly to protect his home state. As Senate Democratic leader for more than a decade, he played a significant role in passing the Affordable Care Act and guiding through Congress pivotal economic recovery legislation in the wake of the Great Recession.

In a statement, Reid’s wife of 62 years, Landra, described her husband, a father of five, as a “devout family man and deeply loyal friend” and said he passed away peacefully surrounded by family.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid REUTERSHouse Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid REUTERS

Landra is the daughter of Jewish immigrants and Reid was outspoken against the rise of antisemitism in the US. In 2019, he said he was alarmed when he saw a photo of someone bearing a swastika sign while protesting at a Nevada campaign event for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who was running for president and who is Jewish.

The Independent asked Reid in 2019 to comment on statements by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., perceived to echo antisemitic slurs.

“One of the reasons we have so much hate is people are passing blame and trying to make this a partisan issue. I refuse to do that,” Reid said. “I don’t think antisemitism is anything caused by Democrats or Republicans. I think it’s an issue that Democrats and Republicans and independents need to join hands and do everything we can to wipe it out.”

Following the 2019 statement, he hosted an event on antisemitism at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. 

Reid was also a strong advocate for Israel, working to secure funding for Israeli defense and Israel-US collaborations, but in 2015 he angered the Jewish state by backing former US President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, which was rancorously opposed by Jerusalem.

He defended his view, saying that Israel’s security is “of utmost importance.”

“I support this deal because I believe it is the best option to halt any Iranian nuclear weapons program and therefore to protect the State of Israel,” he said.

On Tuesday night, the Embassy of Israel tweeted their condolences, stating, "Senator Reid, a political giant, was a true friend of Israel and the Jewish Community. May his memory be for a blessing."

Reuters and JTA contributed to this report.