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Remembering Harry Reid, ex-Democratic Senate leader, who died at 82

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

And let's talk more now about the legacy of Senator Harry Reid with Faiz Shakir. He served as a senior adviser to Reed. Good morning. Thank you for joining us.

FAIZ SHAKIR: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

MCCAMMON: We heard that Senator Reid was not your typical D.C. politician. He didn't have much time for the social scene that so often goes hand in hand with building relationships in D.C. So what was it about him that enabled him to rise and lead the Senate?

SHAKIR: Yes, that's right. He was even short on phone calls. Some people didn't even know when he'd hung up on you because he was often running to the next thing. But what made him so effective? You think about this, somebody who was voted a leader by his peers - is that he had this father-like qualities about him in almost traditional sense. When you think of a father, somebody who knows his children very well, he knows what makes them tick. He's looking out for them. He wants the best for them. He's giving them opportunities to succeed. That was Harry Reid not only with his own intimate family but with the entire Democratic caucus, with his staff, with the president of the United States. He was a father-like figure. People trusted his judgment. They were loyal to him in service. And they and they wanted to know, what direction should we go? - and trusted that when he was making a decision, he was not making it for himself. He was making it for all of us.

MCCAMMON: As we also heard, Reid had a very modest upbringing in Nevada. How did those experiences shape the way he went about legislating?

SHAKIR: He comes from an old-school cloth where class politics was alive, and people remembered where they come from came from. Especially in this day and age, Sarah, you think about people who run for office. They come with millions of dollars already. And they're - you know, that's one of the ways in which we recruit for candidates. Here's a candidate who - person, Harry Reid, who comes from poverty. And he never forgot it. He never forgot the people he came from. He fought for Social Security forever and to expand Social Security because that was so integral to his own life and to his own upbringing to be able to survive. I mean, he fought for community health centers and health care expansions because he felt it in his own mother who lost her teeth, his brother, who was writhing in pain from a leg injury. I mean, those are things that were seared in his head.

And, you know, you go down the line. He fought against trade deals because he felt the working class of America was going to lose out from them. So he opposes all these trade deals that most other politicians supported. He fought for climate change. He was almost clairvoyant about it in politics. He was seeing beyond the corners and saying, look. I see it in my own state that we're going to be suffering from the effects of climate change, in many ways, led his own state to be a bold entrepreneur on renewable energy.

MCCAMMON: What would you say and what would he have said was his biggest political accomplishment?

SHAKIR: Oh, my goodness. If you were talking to him, he would always, of course, say something about his own family. I mean, I remember a conversation he had in which the only time I can remember Harry Reid tearing up. And he talked about when one summer, as he was growing up, he worked at a gas station and earned some money and was able to buy his mother some teeth. And it would get him every single time. It meant the world to her to have teeth in her mouth. And he, you know, had a role to play in earning money to do that.

But I think, you know, his legacy outlived some of the things that I know he would be proudest of because they would be his personal relationships. In many ways, he spawned a whole generation, as I say, of people who feel part of him, feel part of his family, feel part of Team Reid. And I'm sure all of us will be talking about him with great pride for years to come. And if I have anything to say about his soul - my kids talking about it with their kids.

MCCAMMON: I've got to ask you really quickly - you mentioned that habit of hanging up the phone that he had. How often were you hung up on by Senator Reid?

SHAKIR: Well, the funny thing about it is he never said goodbye. So you never knew when it was the end of the conversations. Sometimes, you'd be talking to yourself because he'd already off and run. And so I got used to it, and I said, I said, hey, Senator, I'll see you later.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAKIR: I would preemptively tell him goodbye.

MCCAMMON: Well, I've got to tell you goodbye now. But thank you, Faiz Shakir, for joining us. He's a former senior adviser to the late Senator Harry Reid. Thanks again.

SHAKIR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.