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Opinion | The Side of Harry Reid That Most People Never Saw

Countless remembrances will mention that he was a boxer, but learning to throw a punch seemed less important to his career than learning to take one. Mr. Reid wasn’t just unafraid of bad press; he saw it as a necessary part of achieving a goal. If he wasn’t taking slings and arrows in service of some greater good, he figured, he wasn’t doing his job.

When Republicans shut down the government in 2013 to try to defund the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Reid convinced Democrats to hold the line. In control of the House, Republicans began passing bills that funded popular parts of the government and sending them over to the Senate, daring Democrats to block them. They did, and headlines like “Shutdown Blocks Kids With Cancer From Clinical Trials” proliferated. Mr. Reid helped the caucus members steel themselves against the bad press. It passed, and Republicans surrendered, reopening the government after securing almost zero concessions and being dealt a humiliating defeat.

This foresight is probably why Social Security remains intact. In 2005, Mr. Reid refused to let Mr. Bush privatize the program at a time when conventional wisdom held that Democrats should either collaborate with Mr. Bush or offer their own plans. Mr. Reid rejected each change the president proposed, recognizing that as soon as the Democrats began considering reforms, they would lose their strategic advantage. He persuaded conservative Democrats like Max Baucus, who had helped write the 2001 Bush tax cuts and was tempted to compromise on Social Security, to hold the line. They did and won.

When many Washington insiders and commentators declared the Affordable Care Act dead after Scott Brown’s surprise victory in a Massachusetts Senate race in January 2010, Mr. Reid worked with a longtime collaborator, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to get it done.

Mr. Reid was willing to cross many other Democrats and call for reforming the filibuster for judicial nominees (other than Supreme Court justices) because he had a kind of foresight and pugnaciousness they didn’t — and the perspective to see when they were wrong. In 2013 he secured the votes to eliminate the Senate’s filibuster-induced supermajority threshold for confirming nominees, a move that allowed President Obama to dramatically reshape the federal judiciary. Today that change has allowed President Biden to confirm the most judges of any first-year president since Ronald Reagan.

For people like me who worked in his Senate office, Mr. Reid put his commitment to family into action. He was ahead of his time in creating a family-friendly workplace.

Working for the Senate leader was a demanding, stressful job. In 2013, a few months after my first son was born, I was late to a morning staff meeting. I was told by the executive assistants and schedulers to wait outside. I was sure I was going to be fired. When the meeting was over, the staff filed out. I shuffled in, thinking, “This is it.” But instead of firing or even scolding me, Mr. Reid said, “I can see you’re having a hard time. What do you need?” Flabbergasted, I blurted out the truth, which was that I’d like to be able to be home most nights for dinner. He immediately assented, stuck to it and never stopped asking after my son.

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