By WILL WEISSERT and COLLEEN LONG
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bob Dole was honored Friday at Washington National Cathedral and the World War II monument he helped create as top leaders from both parties saluted the longtime Kansas senator’s ability to practice bare-knuckle politics without losing civility.
With a bipartisanship all-too-rare these days, politicians in office and out came together to pay homage to Dole’s hard-scrabble rise from wounded war veteran to Senate stalwart to presidential candidate. No matter that he lost his bid for that office — repeatedly.
“He could be partisan, and that was fine,” said President Joe Biden. “Americans have been partisan since Jefferson and Hamilton squared off in George Washington’s Cabinet. But like them, Bob Dole was a patriot.”
Joining Biden at the funeral service were members of Congress, Cabinet officials and Republican former Vice Presidents Mike Pence, Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle. Bill Clinton, who beat Dole to win reelection as president in 1996 and was recently hospitalized for an infection unrelated to COVID-19, was also on-hand.
“There’s something that connects that past and present, war time and peace, then and now,” said Biden, who touched Dole’s casket before addressing the service and mentioned their 50 years of friendship. “The courage, the grit, the goodness and the grace of 2nd Lt. Bob Dole, who became Congressman Dole, Senator Dole, statesman, husband, father, friend, colleague and — a word that’s often overused but not here — a genuine hero.”
Dole, who died Sunday at age 98, was severely wounded during World War II, served nearly 36 years in Congress and was GOP Senate leader for more than a decade. In February, he announced he’d been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.
Besides his sharp, often sarcastic tongue, among Dole’s best-known attributes were his pragmatism and self-deprecating wit — representing the sense of compromise of a bygone era.
While calling him a “giant of our time and of all time,” Biden said Dole was worried at the end of his life about American democracy being threatened by today’s bitter political battles and had noted that infighting from both parties “grows more unacceptable day by day.”
Still, Democrats and Republicans coming together to praise Dole’s ability to put country and public service over ideology was the overriding theme.
Former Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts said Dole used humor as a political tool, delivering deadpan punchlines which helped let “the air out of the partisan balloons.” Dole’s daughter, Robin, read a letter her father wrote to his staff in which he said “I believe in the future of the United States of America.”
Dole’s casket later traveled to the World War II Memorial on the National Mall for a public tribute featuring Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and actor Tom Hanks. Roberts noted during the cathedral service that, “Without Bob Dole, there would not be a World War II memorial.”
“Bob Dole understood that it was just not enough recognition that this Greatest Generation deserved. It was reflection and renewal, and it was for the Greatest Generation to inspire the next generation,” Roberts said of Dole working for years to help to ensure the legislation creating the monument came to fruition.
He also recalled Dole often spending Saturday mornings at the memorial, greeting veterans visiting as part of trips he helped organize. Dole was a longtime advocate for the Honor Flight Network, which arranges for veterans to travel to Washington to see memorials dedicated to their service.
Former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Dole once told him he thought about being buried at the World War II memorial. Daschle also said Dole’s sense of duty extended beyond veterans to ordinary people, including when he called a Florida dentist who lost his right arm and left the presidential campaign trail to attend the 1996 graduation party of a girl paralyzed in a car accident.
Dole’s body will later travel to Kansas, where weekend events include a public viewing in his hometown of Russell. He will eventually be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Friday’s services followed Dole lying in state on Thursday under the dome of the U.S. Capitol he so loved. Among those paying respects was Quayle, who at one point touched Dole’s casket and said, “Bye, buddy.”
Born a child of the Dust Bowl, Bob Dole suffered paralyzing and near-fatal wounds after being shot in World War II that sent him home with a severely damaged right arm that he could not use to shake hands. Instead, Dole held a pen in it and reached out with his left as a way to put greeters at ease.
Biden offered vivid, visceral details during Friday’s eulogy, speaking about Dole volunteering for military service and how he came back to “painful” years recovering from the wounds.
“God, what courage Bob Dole had,” the president said.
Dole served as a Kansas state legislator before running for Congress in 1960, joining the House for eight years then going on to win the Senate seat. The 1996 race was Dole’s third and final White House campaign.
Dole’s sense of humor was on display after losing to Clinton. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell recalled this week that when it was time for Dole’s remarks, he stood at the podium and began: “I, Robert J. Dole … do solemnly swear … oh, sorry, wrong speech!”
That humor was rarely seen on the campaign trail, where it could have helped him win more votes. Instead, Dole was seen as a GOP “hatchet man,” a mentee of Richard Nixon and chairman of the Republican National Committee during the Watergate era.
Still, it was during Dole’s long Senate career that he grew to see the value of reaching across the aisle to Democrats and secured his more lasting achievements — most notably the Americans with Disabilities Act that to this day ensures a level of accessibility as a civil right.
Dole also fought to protect Social Security benefits for elderly Americans and supported civil rights, even if such actions wasn’t always politically popular with everyone.
“Over the opposition of many in his party and some in mine, he managed a bill to create a federal holiday in the name of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Biden noted. “Bob Dole did that.”