The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Former senator Robert J. Dole to lie in state in U.S. Capitol

Republican presidential candidate Robert J. Dole gives a Memorial Day speech in New Jersey in 1996. (Jeff Christensen/Reuters)
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Former senator Robert J. Dole, who died Sunday at age 98, will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Monday.

“Senator Dole was an extraordinary patriot, who devoted his entire life to serving our nation with dignity and integrity,” Pelosi said in a statement that recounted Dole’s World War II service — for which he was awarded two Purple Hearts — as well as his long career in Congress.

Dole represented Kansas in the Senate from 1969 to 1996 and was the Senate Republican leader for more than a decade. He also sought the presidency three times, winning the Republican nomination in 1996 before ultimately losing to incumbent Bill Clinton.

“From the Well of the House to the Floor of the Senate, as a presidential candidate and as an elder statesman, he was one of the foremost advocates for our Servicemembers, veterans and military families,” Pelosi said. “May it be a comfort to his loving wife, his dear daughter and all his loved ones that a grateful nation joins them in mourning during this sad time.”

There are no formal rules that determine who is allowed to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda, but the honor has typically been given to “any person who has rendered distinguished service to the nation,” with the approval of their family and of Congress, according to the Architect of the Capitol.

Dole’s casket will arrive at the Capitol on Thursday morning, and a congressional tribute ceremony will be held. President Biden will deliver remarks, and Dole will lie in state. A formal departure ceremony will be held Friday morning. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no public viewing.

Biden on Sunday ordered U.S. flags at the White House, federal buildings and grounds, military posts, naval stations, embassies and consulates to be flown at half-staff until Dec. 9 as a mark of respect for Dole, whom Biden described as “a statesman like few in our history and a war hero among the greatest of the Greatest Generation.” The order followed one by Pelosi for flags at the U.S. Capitol be flown at half-staff as well.

On Sunday, the White House said Biden and first lady Jill Biden had spoken on the phone with Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, with whom they have been friends for half a century. In a statement, Biden said one of the first conversations he had with anyone outside the White House after he was sworn in as president had been with the Doles.

“Like all true friendships, regardless of how much time has passed, we picked up right where we left off, as though it were only yesterday that we were sharing a laugh in the Senate dining room or debating the great issues of the day, often against each other, on the Senate floor,” Biden said in a lengthy statement. “I saw in his eyes the same light, bravery, and determination I’ve seen so many times before.”

Biden, who represented Delaware in the Senate from 1973 to 2009, recalled that Dole never hesitated to work with him or other Democrats “when it mattered most,” though they often disagreed. He praised his role in bipartisan efforts, such as providing school meals and food for nursing mothers and young children, saying the work, for Dole, was “written on his heart.”

“He and Ted Kennedy came together to turn Bob’s lifelong cause into the Americans With Disabilities Act — granting tens of millions of Americans lives of greater dignity,” Biden said. “On the Social Security Commission, he led a bipartisan effort with Pat Moynihan to ensure that every American could grow old with their basic dignity intact. When he managed the bill to create a federal holiday in the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. — a bill that many in his own caucus opposed — I will never forget what he said to our colleagues: ‘No first-class democracy can treat people like second-class citizens.’ ”

Bob Dole, the longtime senator from Kansas and 1996 Republican presidential nominee, died on Dec. 5 at 98. (Video: Joshua Carroll, Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post)

Biden was joined by former presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump in remembering Dole as a war hero and a patriot. In a statement, Bush said he would always remember Dole’s salute to his late father, former president George H.W. Bush, at the Capitol.

“Our entire family benefited from that friendship including my father … and now we Bushes salute Bob and give thanks for his life of principled service,” Bush said.

Scores of members of Congress also shared their remembrances of Dole, praising his service as a World War II veteran, his devotion to Kansas, and his ability to work with both Republicans and Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called Dole “a bona fide American hero” and said his lifetime of service was “rooted in a simple mission: looking out for his neighbors.”

“At first that meant serving his customers at a soda fountain in Russell, Kansas,” McConnell said in a statement. “Then it meant heroic, decorated service with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in World War II; brutal fighting from which Bob barely made it home. And then came a remarkable career in public service, capped off by nearly 30 years in the U.S. Senate and more than a decade as Republican Leader.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Dole’s passing should be a moment for Americans to reflect on service to one another.

“We should all think on what we can do for a veteran, a neighbor in need or someone facing a challenging circumstance and commit to following the example Senator Dole set for the country,” he said.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who uses Dole’s former desk on the Senate floor, called Dole an “exemplary statesman” who “chose what was right over what was convenient.”

“Whether it was on the battlefield, in the halls of Congress, or in his everyday life, Sen. Dole’s passion and dedication to his fellow Kansan and to his country was a steady reminder that a single person can make a difference and change the world,” Moran tweeted. “Throughout Sen. Dole’s life, he exemplified the ideals, sacrifice and tenacity of the Greatest Generation.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the longest-serving member of the Senate still in office, remembered Dole as “a giant of the Senate.” Leahy, 81, recently announced he would retire at the end of next year rather than seek a ninth term.

“I remember the large number of Republican and Democratic Senators gathering on the Floor to praise him when he stepped down from the Senate,” Leahy said in a statement. “Traveling with him, working with him and writing legislation with him are among my fondest memories of the Senate.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an ideological opposite of Dole, honored Dole as having “served his country with courage on the battlefield, and with dignity in the Senate.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a combat veteran who lost both legs in 2004 fighting in the Iraq War, said Dole was a patient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at the same time she was there recovering. Although Dole, 81 then, had a private room, he always did his rehab with “the rest of us,” she said, and loved to crack jokes and reminisce about his days in the Army.

“I’ll always remember how that proud Veteran from an earlier generation took the time — during some of the most difficult moments of my life — to interact with us younger Soldiers, helping us recover from both our physical and psychological wounds,” Duckworth said in a statement. “It was my great pleasure to meet him and an honor to be able to call him a friend.”