Harry Reid Biography

U.S. Representative, Government Official, Lawyer (1939–)
Harry Reid is a five-term Democratic U.S. senator from Nevada. He served as Senate majority leader from 2007 through 2014.


Harry Reid was born in Searchlight, Nevada, on December 2, 1939. From humble origins, Reid climbed the political ranks to a seat in the U.S. Senate, where he emerged as a leading voice within the Democratic Party. Named Senate majority leader in 2007, Reid helped push through such polarizing legislation as the economic-stimulus package and Obamacare. Known for his blunt yet soft-spoken demeanor, love of boxing and Mormon faith, to which he converted as a young man, Reid in 2015 announced he would retire instead of seeking a sixth Senate term.

Early Life

Harry Mason Reid was born in Searchlight, Nevada, on December 2, 1939. He was the third of four sons born to mother Inez Orena and father Harry Vincent Reid, a miner who committed suicide in 1972. The Reid home was modest, with no indoor toilet, hot water or telephone.

Reid committed himself to education at a young age. Since Searchlight had no high school, Reid boarded with relatives in Henderson, Nevada, to attend classes at a local school there, as well as participate in football and boxing. He attended the College of Southern Utah and Utah State University, graduating with a degree in political science and history, before earning his J.D. from George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C.

Early Political Career

Soon after finishing law school, Reid entered public service. He served as Henderson city attorney and a member of the Nevada Assembly before winning election as lieutenant governor of Nevada in 1970. He held that post until 1974, when he ran for a seat in the United States Senate and lost to his Republican opponent, former Nevada Governor Paul Laxalt. In 1975, Reid lost a race for the Las Vegas governorship.

After five years as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, Reid made a triumphant return to politics with his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982. In 1986, he successfully ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Democratic Party Leader

Focusing on improving conditions in his state, Reid oversaw an economic boom that transformed Las Vegas into the fastest-growing U.S. city in the 1990s. He also forged strong ties in the Senate and ascended the leadership ranks with a proven ability to build coalitions. Reid held the position of Senate Democratic Whip from 1999 to 2005, also serving as chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee from 2001 to 2003. In 2005, Reid succeeded South Dakota's Tom Daschle as Senate minority leader, and he soon became majority leader after the 2006 midterm elections enabled Democrats to take control of the Senate.

Early in his tenure as majority leader, Reid spearheaded an ethics reform bill. After Barack Obama was elected U.S. president in 2008, Reid adeptly served as his muscle man in the Senate to push through major legislation, most notably the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). 

Outside of his belief in a restricted right to abortion, Reid embraced the Democratic stance on core party issues. In 2012, he reversed his opposition to same-sex marriage, mirroring a broader shift within the Democratic Party. A contentious figure during a time of intensifying political polarization, he received criticism for alleged ethics violations, including the acceptance of unsanctioned gifts and involvement in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. A Senate ethics panel cleared Reid of one set of charges in 2006.

On the home front, Reid sought to revive a state that was particularly hard hit by a national recession. He rescued the stalled construction of CityCenter, a privately funded casino and shopping complex on the Las Vegas Strip, and secured funds for alternative-energy projects and overseas promotion of tourism. He also fought the designation of Nevada's Yucca Mountain as a site for a spent nuclear waste repository, emerging victorious in 2012.

Despite his accomplishments, Reid at times struggled to earn support from Nevada residents who viewed him as a calculating political boss. He barely held off Republican John Ensign during the 1998 Senate race, winning by some 400 votes, and engaged in a tough battle with Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle in 2010 before winning a fifth term.

An effective attack dog for President Obama as the incumbent sought reelection in 2012, Reid alleged that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had not paid taxes for a decade, and agreed with a comment that Romney had damaged the reputation of their shared Mormon faith. (Reid had become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon church, as a young man.)

Reid also served as a central figure as negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over spending cuts and tax increases became a bitter political battle in 2012. Reid once again didn't mince his words when attacking Republicans, criticizing the "dictatorship" of House Speaker John Boehner and his counterpart's desire to remain in power instead of averting economic disaster. Reid helped draft a version of the fiscal cliff legislation, which was reviewed by his Democratic and Republican peers, before earning passage in both chambers of Congress on New Year's Day 2013. 

Later that year, Reid again dove into the trenches of political warfare over filibusters of executive and judicial nominees. Ignoring threats of reprisal, he pushed through a vote that allowed nominees to be confirmed in the Senate though a majority instead of a supermajority, easing the gridlock on stalled appeals-court appointments.

Shortly after Republican victories in the 2014 midterms pushed Reid back into the role of minority leader, he announced he would retire instead of seeking a sixth Senate term. Loyal to party causes, in 2016 he led the charge against Senate Republicans' refusal to hold a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, and backed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in an FBI investigation over use of a private email server. He also put his formidable Nevada political operation to use in helping to elect his preferred successor, former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

On November 11, 2016, two days after Donald Trump was elected U.S. president in a stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton, Reid issued a blistering statement about the president-elect and his campaign. "The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America," he wrote. "White nationalists, Vladimir Putin and ISIS are celebrating Donald Trump’s victory, while innocent, law-abiding Americans are wracked 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."

He continued addressing the future of a very divided nation.“We as a nation must find a way to move forward without consigning those who Trump has threatened to the shadows. Their fear is entirely rational, because Donald Trump has talked openly about doing terrible things to them. Every news piece that breathlessly obsesses over inauguration preparations compounds their fear by normalizing a man who has threatened to tear families apart, who has bragged about sexually assaulting women and who has directed crowds of thousands to intimidate reporters and assault African Americans. Their fear is legitimate and we must refuse to let it fall through the cracks between the fluff pieces.

“If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump, a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate. Winning the electoral college does not absolve Trump of the grave sins he committed against millions of Americans. Donald Trump may not possess the capacity to assuage those fears, but he owes it to this nation to try. If Trump wants to roll back the tide of hate he unleashed, he has a tremendous amount of work to do and he must begin immediately.”

Personal Life

Reid has been married to Landra Gould since 1959. They have a daughter and four sons. Their oldest son, Rory, served as chairman of Nevada's Clark County Commission and unsuccessfully ran for Nevada governor in 2010.

Reid and his wife converted to Mormonism while Reid was attending college. Some Republican Mormons have argued that Reid's political positions are at odds with his faith, including his opposition to the church's funding of California's Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage that was passed in 2008, later found to be unconstitutional. Reid addressed many of these criticisms while delivering a speech at Brigham Young University in Utah in 2007, making connections between his Democratic and Mormon beliefs.

Reid suffered a stroke in 2005 and was involved in a car crash in 2012, sustaining minor injuries. He was seriously injured while exercising in his home on New Year's Day 2015, breaking multiple ribs and bones around his right eye. The accident left him blind in the eye and forced him to rely on a cane while walking.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!