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February 21, 2018

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Senator Harry Reid bids farewell after 30 years

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C-SPAN2 / AP

This image provided by C-SPAN2 shows retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada giving his final speech on the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016.

Updated Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016 | 10:05 a.m.

WASHINGTON — “It’s a long way from Searchlight to the United States Senate,” U.S. Senator Harry Reid said this morning, delivering his farewell address from the Senate floor and closing out more than three decades of representing Nevada in the nation’s capital.

In a winding, lengthy speech, Reid tied the threads of his life together, connecting his parents’ health and mental health concerns to fighting for access to health care in Congress and weaving throughout his story the one constant in his life — his wife, Landra.

With the attention of about 30 senators and more than 120 additional friends, family members and reporters in attendance, Reid talked about hard work, saying it’s the only thing that got him where he is today.

“The little boy of Searchlight has been able to be a part of a changing state of Nevada,” Reid said. “I’m grateful I’ve been a part of that change.”

Senators in attendance included Republican Marco Rubio of Florida, independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Throughout the address, Reid detailed some of his signature accomplishments, including helping President Barack Obama pass the Affordable Care Act. He said it would have been “wonderful” if the law had existed when he was growing up in Searchlight.

“We didn’t go to doctors. It was a rare, rare occasion,” Reid said. “There was no one to go to.”

Reid often shares the story of how he worked at a service station as a kid to save $250 to buy his mother teeth. He called it the “one thing I did in my life that I am so proud of.”

He also talked frankly about how his father struggled with mental health issues before committing suicide.

“I think everyone can understand just a little bit why I’ve been such an avid supporter of Obamacare, health care,” Reid said.

Among some of his other legislative accomplishments, Reid detailed working on the taxpayers’ bill of rights, tax incentives for solar and geothermal energy, and the Travel Promotion Act.

He recalled watching nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site from Searchlight as a kid — “I can remember seeing them. We were a long ways away in Searchlight. We would see that flash.” — and then later working to support the test site in Congress.

He touted Nellis Air Force Base as the “finest fighter training facility in the world” and noted that drones are flown on the other side of the world from Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs.

Reid promised not to get into “a long dissertation” about blocking the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nye County, one of Reid’s chief, Nevada-specific accomplishments.

But to Republicans thinking of reviving the Yucca Mountain project, Reid said, “They better bring a checkbook with them,” promising it would cost the federal government $10 billion to $12 billion.

The senator noted efforts he has taken to preserve the “pristine” Nevada, creating Great Basin National Park and Tule Springs National Monument. He called Lake Tahoe a “stunningly beautiful place,” something he and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller have both worked to preserve.

Heller, delivering remarks from the floor after Reid’s speech to a nearly empty room, stressed those two areas on which he and Reid had been able to collaborate across the aisle — preserving Lake Tahoe and opposing Yucca Mountain.

He promised to continue those efforts as the new senior senator from Nevada.

“I totally expect that he (Reid) will operate as Nevada’s third senator,” Heller said jokingly in Reid’s absence.

Closer to home, Reid took a light jab at Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, whom he appointed to a federal judgeship in the mid-2000s. Sandoval later left that lifetime appointment to run for governor against Reid’s son Rory in 2010.

“He was a good federal judge and things were going great until he ran against my son for governor,” Reid said. “I wish he hadn’t, because my son would now be governor.”

The 2010 election was a tough fight for both, with Rory Reid making his run at the gubernatorial seat and Harry Reid in the fight of his life to hold onto his Senate seat against Republican Sharron Angle.

Reid and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, have long sparred across the aisle. But today Reid called McConnell “my friend,” describing their relationship as that of lawyers on opposing sides.

“We’re advocates for a cause,” Reid said.

McConnell, delivering remarks from the floor, joked that he and Reid both “dreamed of a life in the majors” in baseball but instead ended up the heads of two “unruly franchises” in the Senate.

Reid thanked a long list of senators he has worked with over the years: Robert Byrd, George Mitchell, Bob Dole, Trent Lott, Tom Daschle and Bill Frist.

He compared Sen. Dick Durbin to his “cousin Jeff,” who once grabbed someone’s nose and twisted it as hard as he could in an effort to defend Reid’s brother Larry in a Searchlight bar.

He said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate minority leader, “won’t be me, but he’ll do a good job.”

To his fellow senators, Reid said he hopes they do all they can to protect the Senate as an institution and to give it “the dignity it deserves” and that his colleagues are able to “temper the use of the filibuster.” He also said dark money in politics — campaign spending from undisclosed sources — are the cracks in the election system in the U.S., referencing the Leonard Cohen song “Anthem.”

To the press, he urged vigilance, saying journalists have “as much to do with your democracy as any branch of government.”

He also thanked his staff, of which there were almost 3,000 over his years in office. “I feel so strongly about my staff. They are my family,” Reid said. “I really, really do believe that.”

In closing, Reid thanked his wife, Landra, whom he met more than six decades ago and has five children and 19 grandchildren with. He quoted Britain’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who said, “The magic of first love is that it never ends.”

“I believe that. She’s my first love,” Reid said, choking up on the floor. “It will never end.”