Late Harry Reid, Former Senate Majority Leader, Dead at 82

Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks prior to the Nevada Democratic's "First in the West" event at Bellagio Resort & Casino on November 17, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks prior to the Nevada Democratic's "First in the West" event at Bellagio Resort & Casino on November 17, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Image credit: David Becker/Getty Images)

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who was a player on numerous communications-related legislative issues, has died at 82 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Reid pushed back on media consolidation, including prominently on the Charter-Time Warner Cable-Bright House Networks merger in 2016.

He also tried to block the Federal Communications Commission's 2008 decision to loosen the broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership rule.

Reid was a longtime proponent of beefing up cybersecurity.

He also famously backed the renomination of then-commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in a fight with then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was blocking Rosenworcel's renomination. Reid took to the Senate floor in April 2016 to call for a vote on her nomination, which did not happen. Rosenworcel had to exit the commission before eventually being reinstated.

Reid and Rosenworcel — and cable operators — also shared concerns over then FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal to "unlock" cable set-top boxes, which did not make it into the FCC rulebook because Rosenworcel ultimately did not vote for it.

Reid was also a leader in a Senate push to get the Washington Football Team (then called the Redskins), to change its name. That came at the same time that former FCC chairman Reed Hundt was encouraging agency officials to support the name change.

"During the two decades we served together in the United States Senate, and the eight years we worked together while I served as vice president, Harry met the marker for what I’ve always believed is the most important thing by which you can measure a person — their action and their word," said former Delaware Senator, VP, and now President Joe Biden. "If Harry said he would do something, he did it. If he gave you his word, you could bank on it. That’s how he got things done for the good of the country for decades."

“Harry Reid was a dear friend and colleague that I was privileged to serve with in the U.S. Senate," said National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith, himself a former senator (from Oregon). "He was a committed patriot and public servant who fought hard not only for the residents of Nevada, but all Americans. He leaves behind a lasting legacy of service to his country. Sharon and I extend our deepest condolences to his family.”

"Our country has lost an honorable public servant," said Vice President Kamala Harris, also a former senator. "Harry Reid rose through the ranks in Washington, becoming Senate Majority Leader, but he never forgot his humble beginnings in Searchlight, Nevada — and he always fought for working families and the poor. Leader Reid also got things done: from expanding access to healthcare through the Affordable Care Act, to getting economic relief to families and businesses through the Recovery Act, and much more, he made a meaningful difference in people’s lives."

“America’s Public Television Stations are saddened by the passing of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — a talented public servant with an extraordinary life story," said Patrick Butler, president of America's Public Television Stations. “Senator Reid personified the American dream of rising from the most modest of beginnings to the heights of government power. His early experience as a boxer proved good training for the political battles he waged, and usually won, on behalf of the people of Nevada. We in public broadcasting knew him as a steadfast advocate of our work in America’s communities, and I was honored to present the Majority Leader with our Champion of Public Broadcasting award in 2011.

"Among the most consequential actions in Harry Reid's career was his decision as Majority Leader in 2013 to change Senate rules and confirm circuit and district court judicial nominees, as well as other presidential appointees, with a bare majority vote instead of 60 votes," said Fix the Courts Executive Director Gabe Roth. "Some called it a 'nuclear' option, but given Republicans' record intransigence on confirmations, it was the rational way to keep the business of the federal courts and executive branch moving, and I'm glad Reid had the courage to do it. Without it, President Biden wouldn't have been able to tie the record for judicial confirmations in a president's first year." ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.