Washington, DC— Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks today on President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday, which was celebrated yesterday. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration was the first one I attended as a Member of Congress. It was bitterly cold that day. While the temperatures sank into the single digits, Reagan became the first and only President to take the oath of office in the Capitol Rotunda.
“He said in that indoor inaugural address: ‘History is a ribbon, always unfurling. History is a journey. And as we continue our journey, we think of those who traveled before us.’
“Yesterday would have been President Reagan’s 100th birthday. Today we think of President Reagan, and how he steered America’s travels through history’s journey.
“His own travels often took him through my state. California’s Ronald Reagan was a close friend of Nevada’s. In his earliest days as an actor, he entertained crowds at the Last Frontier Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.
“Decades later, the same week Ronald Reagan became Governor of California, Paul Laxalt became Governor next door, in Nevada. When Reagan first sought the Presidency, Laxalt managed his campaign. And when President Reagan worked down the street at the White House, Paul Laxalt worked here at Nevada’s Senior Senator. It was a special relationship – one so close that some called Senator Laxalt the ‘First Friend.’
“I was fortunate enough to see firsthand President Reagan’s appreciation for Nevada. After talking to people in Ely and across eastern Nevada, I wrote legislation to establish Great Basin National Park.
“President Reagan’s Secretary of Agriculture recommended that he veto it. The Agriculture Secretary didn’t much like the idea of a young Member of Congress from the other party putting such a bill on the President’s desk. But President Reagan overruled his advisor and together we created Nevada’s first national park.
“It wasn’t the last time President Reagan and I worked together to preserve our West. We worked to end a 100-year water war between California and Nevada. It was a complicated conflict that involved Lake Tahoe and other wetlands, and sensitive issues ranging from irrigation to Indian tribes to endangered species. Again, a lot of advisors wanted the President to veto it. But he signed it.
“President Reagan’s help in ending the water war meant a lot to me because he knew that when Americans are all in this together, even local issues are all of our concern. I remember how he signed my bill to establish Great Basin because his view of that national park embodied his vision of the nation.
“He never looked at America as a map of red states and blue states and purple states, but as a landscape of states colored by green forests and brown deserts and clear waters. He knew that when the sun breached the horizon each day, the morning that dawned in America was a morning for all Americans and for families of all backgrounds. As he said in that second inaugural address, ‘we have worked and acted together, not as members of political parties, but as Americans.’
“Ronald Reagan was a Republican President from the West who cherished a famously close friendship with Tip O’Neill, a Democratic Speaker of the House from the East. He was a patriot who forged a friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of a rival he called an ‘evil empire.’ He would make certain America could defend herself, but quietly sent a diplomatic team to start negotiating with the Soviet Union the minute he took office.
“Ronald Reagan knew politics has always been and always will be about compromise – and that compromise can only happen when public servants share personal relationships. He knew politicians work better as partners than as partisans. And as much as he criticized government, he knew it wasn’t a faceless machine. He appreciated that government exists – as Lincoln said – of, for and by people.
“That’s why he was more beholden to simple pragmatism than stubborn principles. That’s the reason he, a staunch conservative, raised taxes when the economy needed revenue. It’s why he viewed the challenge of immigration through a practical lens. And it’s why he knew America could be strong – and would be stronger still – in a world without nuclear weapons.
“He wasn’t perfect, and I didn’t agree with many of his politics or policies. But I always admired the way he captured our country’s imagination. I always respected his honest assessment of his strengths and limitations alike, and the way he humbly surrounded himself with good, smart people.
“A century after his birth, President Ronald Reagan’s legacy remains as enduring as anyone who has ever unfurled the long ribbon of our nation’s history.
“That legacy lives not merely in his policies. And to honor it, it is not enough to try to apply his solutions of 30 years ago to the problems we confront today. Rather we should remember how he respected his colleagues and his constituents. We should try to emulate the confidence he communicated.
“Ronald Reagan was a proud neighbor of Nevada’s who united and motivated us by reminding us that all Americans live in the same neighborhood. That is a lesson I still remember today, and that is the legacy I remember best about our 40th President.”