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Harry Reid choked a man for trying to bribe him, and 10 more facts about the Senate leader

Harry Reid, in March 2015.
Harry Reid, in March 2015.
Win McNamee / Getty

Today, Harry Reid announced his retirement from the Senate. Reid is well-known for his decade of Senate leadership, for winning the 60 votes necessary to pass Obamacare, and for changing the filibuster rules in 2013.

But he's had a long career and a fascinating life before any of that, including a troubled rural childhood, a stint as an amateur boxer, and some tangles with the mob while he headed the Nevada Gaming Commission. Here are the highlights, drawn mainly from his memoir, The Good Fight.

  1. Reid grew up in Searchlight, Nevada, a declining gold-mining town that had 13 brothels and no churches. His parents were heavy drinkers, and his father sometimes abused his mother.
  2. Nicknamed "Pinky," the young Reid frequently got into fights with other children. He once beat up his teacher's son in front of his class, breaking his own hand. Eventually, he channeled his aggression into amateur boxing.
  3. Reid grew up without any religious affiliation, while his wife, Landra, was Jewish. But the couple converted to Mormonism shortly after they married. Landra's parents did not approve of the marriage, so the couple eloped, and had their wedding dinner at a Chinese restaurant. (Before the marriage, Reid once got in a fistfight with his future father-in-law.)
  4. After Reid's own father died, Reid found his marriage certificate and was surprised to discover that he and his younger brother were born out of wedlock. He called up his brother and said, "Hey, you little bastard," according to his memoir.
  5. In the 1960s, Reid chose to go to law school at George Washington University. His congressman arranged a patronage job for him as a Capitol policeman, and Reid sat at the front desk in the building now named Longworth.
  6. Reid's high school history teacher, Mike O'Callaghan, was crucial to Reid's political rise — because O'Callaghan rose to chair Nevada's Democratic Party and eventually became the state's governor. Reid served as his lieutenant governor from 1971 to 1975, his first statewide political office.
  7. In the mid-'70s, Reid failed to win election to the US Senate and as mayor of Las Vegas. So his mentor, Governor O'Callaghan, intervened again, naming him chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. This gave Reid a powerful position at a time when corruption and mafia influence on gambling were heavy. At one point, Reid's wife's car was rigged to explode.
  8. When a man tried to offer Reid a bribe in 1978, he reported it to the FBI. They set up a sting, but Reid ended up going off-script and choking the criminal as he was about to be arrested. "You son of a bitch, you tried to bribe me!" he said. (It was videotaped.)
  9. Reid has been involved in two incredibly close elections. He lost his 1974 Senate bid by just 0.4 percent. Then, after finally winning a Senate seat in 1986 and serving two terms, he won a third term in 1998 by just 0.1 percent.
  10. Reid became Senate Democratic whip, the number-two position in party leadership, in 1997. He described his technique as follows: "I would reserve the breast pocket of my suit jacket for [senators'] notes, requests, and complaints, and by the end of most days that pocket would be full." When the top spot opened up in 2005, Reid became Senate Democratic leader — a position he still holds.
  11. Reid's relationship with President George W. Bush was notoriously terrible, due to disagreements ranging from the Iraq War to the administration's plan to store nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Reid publicly called Bush, at various times, a "loser" and a "liar." When a Rolling Stone reporter observed that Reid had apologized for the "loser" comment, Reid responded, "But never for the liar, have I?"