WASHINGTON - Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, a tenacious deal-maker who has been the top Democrat in the Senate for the last decade, said Friday he will not run for reelection in 2016.
In an interview after his announcement, Reid said he would like to see Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York replace him as the chamber's Democratic leader.
"Schumer, in 22 months if he plays his cards right, should be able to do it," Reid said. "I told him if you need my help, you got it."
Reid, 75, who serves as minority leader, had repeatedly said publicly that he would run for a sixth term next year. But in his statement Friday, he referred to a recent exercise-related accident that impaired his vision and said the injury gave him and his wife time to "ponder and think."
Despite Reid's endorsement of Schumer, his surprise retirement throws open the question of who will succeed Reid as Democrats look toward regaining the Senate majority in 2016. Reid served as majority leader for eight years until Republicans won the upper chamber in November's midterm election.
During his stint as majority leader, Reid worked closely with President Obama to pass and implement White House priorities, particularly the Affordable Care Act. He also often served as a buffer for the president, protecting him from GOP attempts to undercut the administration's policies.
"As the leader of the Senate Democrats during my time in office, Harry has become not only an ally, but a friend," Obama said Friday in a statement. "I'm proud of all we have accomplished together, and I know the Senate will not be the same without him. I look forward to working with him to keep fighting for every American over the next two years, and Michelle and I wish him and Landra well in whatever the future holds."
Reid said Friday he informed the president about his plans during a "long talk" Thursday evening, when the men reflected on their accomplishments and what they still hoped to achieve in the next two years.
Acknowledging that his own reelection would probably involve a difficult and expensive campaign while his party works to reclaim the majority, Reid said it would be "inappropriate for me to soak up all those resources on me when I could be devoting those resources to the caucus."
"We've got to be more concerned about the country, the Senate, the state of Nevada than about ourselves. And as a result of that, I'm not going to run for reelection," he announced.
After Democrats lost the Senate majority in November, Reid, a former boxer, appeared primed for a fight - not just to win his own seat again but to ensure Democrats' tenure in the minority would be short-lived.
But just before Congress was to convene in January, Reid suffered broken ribs and facial bones in an accident while exercising at his Nevada home. The injury required several procedures to help restore his vision, and Reid has been wearing special eyeglasses since.
Reid's last two years as majority leader may have been the most climactic. He helped advance a comprehensive immigration reform bill, a major priority in his home state, while serving as Obama's top congressional backstop, keeping legislation from the House's Republican majority from reaching the president's desk.
Perhaps most significant, in part at the urging of his caucus' newest members, Reid executed a historic change in the Senate's filibuster rules, allowing most presidential appointments to advance with a simple majority vote.