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October 24, 2017

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Colleagues heap praise on retiring Sen. Harry Reid as his portrait is unveiled

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Evan Vucci / AP

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiles with Reid during a ceremony to unveil a portrait of him on Capitol Hill on Dec. 8, 2016.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid is known for avoiding the traditional Washington social circuit.

But on Thursday night there was one function the retiring Nevada senator couldn’t avoid — his own portrait unveiling.

The event was attended by a host of people who have grown close to the senator over the years. His former Chief of Staff David Krone, one of his proteges, Rep.-elect Ruben Kihuen, and a host of current and former senators were among the attendees.

Reid sat at the front of the room throughout the event, smiling and sometimes looking down at his hands as the night’s featured guests joked about all the compliments he was being forced to endure during the 75-minute ceremony.

“Harry, in case you’re tempted to walk out from all the praise, we’ve asked the sergeant-at-arms to guard the door,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

Pelosi said that when Reid announced his retirement, she suggested having a dinner in his honor, inviting all of his friends from across the country.

“He said, ‘Forget about it. I’d rather spend the money feeding the poor or giving it to a university,’” Pelosi said.

In a slightly shorter speech than his morning address in the Senate, Reid thanked those in the room, including his family and current and former staff members.

“My wife, my children, my grandchildren down in the front row — beautiful human beings inside and out,” Reid said. “I look around the room and see my staff, my former staff. They have made my career.”

He called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who also briefly spoke at the event, his friend and said he has always found Pelosi to be “so kind and so thoughtful and so considerate.”

He talked about working with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to pass legislation through Congress when Emanuel was President Barack Obama’s chief of staff.

Reid called his wife his rock, saying that she has always helped him.

“Landra and I have had a love affair for over 60 years. She was a sophomore in high school, and I was a junior,” Reid said. “We’ve been inseparable.”

Former U.S. Sen. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has made few public appearances since losing her bid for president, received a standing ovation as she took the podium. “This is not exactly the speech at the Capitol I hoped to be giving after the election,” Clinton said.

The event was to unveil Reid’s portrait, but “the more fitting portrait of him will be the one that goes in the dictionary next to the word ‘fighter,’” Clinton said, noting how Reid fought on behalf of Nevadans to protect public lands, create the Great Basin National Park and promote clean energy.

Clinton said one of her favorite memories with Reid was accompanying him to Fallon to hold a hearing about the high rates of leukemia there.

“On that trip and on many occasions, I saw first-hand Harry’s deep commitment to the state and country he loved and served so well,” Clinton said.

She also took the opportunity to lament what she called the “epidemic of fake news.”

“It’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real world consequences,” Clinton said. “This isn’t about politics or partisanship.”

Vice President Joe Biden offered a heartfelt commemoration of Reid, interspersed with bursts of his characteristic sense of humor.

Biden also praised Reid’s wife, Landra. “You deserve our undying gratitude,” Biden said, as audience members gave her a standing ovation. “It’s been hard raising this boy, hasn’t it?”

Biden thanked Reid for embracing him and his family. “Love you, pal,” he said. “I know that embarasses you, but I do.”

Gavin Glakas, the artist who painted Reid’s portrait, noted that Reid could have easily picked a more renowned artist. But Glakas said Reid took an interest in his work when he was just a child and until he became one of Reid’s staffers.

“Underneath all of that and the bedrock of all of that is a sweet, sweet person,” Glakas said.

With his retirement, Reid passes the mantle of Senate minority leader to Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. Schumer described Reid, as he often is described, as a fighter.

“The important thing is not that you fight. The important thing is what and who you fight for. Harry fought for people,” Schumer said. “He fought for the things he cared about, and though he didn’t always prevail, he always kept fighting.”

In their final remarks, both Clinton and Schumer recited the lyrics of the song “The Boxer,” written by musician Paul Simon.

“He carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down,” Schumer said. “But the fighter still remains.”

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