Feisty US Senate Democrat leader Harry Reid to retire

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Harry Reid, the combative leader of the Democrats in the US Senate who became a trusted ally to Barack Obama when he assumed the presidency, said Friday he will not seek reelection in 2016.

The 75-year-old lawmaker from Nevada, a savvy and relentless backroom operator on Capitol Hill, suffered serious injuries while exercising in his Las Vegas home in January that left him with broken facial bones and nearly blind in one eye.

In a video announcing his retirement, Reid said the accident itself was not the decisive reason to leave, but noted that his recovery had given him some unusual "down time."

"I have had time to ponder and to think," Reid said.

"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."

Reid's retirement late next year will come three decades after he was first elected to the Senate, and is sure to set off a leadership scramble among the chamber's Democrats.

He served as Senate majority leader from 2007 until early 2015, shortly after the Democrats lost their majority in elections last November.

But even as minority leader he has wielded considerable power, keeping his caucus united against Republican efforts to repeal Obama orders on immigration.

Reid would have faced a difficult re-election battle back home, where many constituents remain angry over how in 2010 he shepherded Obama's signature health care reform legislation through the Senate on a party-line vote.

His relationship with the Republicans has gradually deteriorated, culminating with a controversial decision in 2013 to change centuries-old Senate rules around filibusters.

With his constant verbal attacks on Republican policies from the Senate floor - he accused conservative mega-donors of trying to "buy our democracy" - he was certain to face a tsunami of 2016 campaign fundraising against him.

"We have to make sure that the Democrats take control of the Senate again," Reid said.

"I feel it is inappropriate for me to soak up all those resources on me when I could be devoting those resources to the (Democratic) caucus, and that's what I intend to do."

Reid grew up in the tiny town of Searchlight, Nevada, in a house with no running water. He became an amateur boxer and US Capitol Police officer, experiences he routinely refers to in Congress.

"Harry Reid is a fighter," Obama said in a statement.

"He's never backed down from a tough decision, or been afraid to choose what is right over what is easy."

Reid's longtime adversary, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, hailed Reid as a "formidable opponent" with "distinctive grit."