The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Biden pays tribute to Dole: ‘America has lost one of our greatest patriots’

The casket of former senator Bob Dole (R-Kan.) arrives Dec. 9 in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, where he is lying in state. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Biden said America has lost one of its greatest patriots with the death of former senator Bob Dole, honoring the statesman and his longtime friend as “a giant of our history” who prioritized principles over party.

Dole, who died Sunday at age 98, is lying in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Thursday, in a return to the heart of the place that shaped decades of his political career and where he produced much of the work that would form his legacy.

“My fellow Americans, America has lost one of our greatest patriots,” Biden said at a ceremony honoring Dole. “We may follow his wisdom, I hope, and his timeless truth — that the truth of the matter is, as divided as we are, the only way forward for democracy is unity, consensus. The only way.”

Shortly before 10 a.m. Eastern time Thursday, a military bearer party took Dole’s casket, draped in an American flag, up the U.S. Capitol steps, where they were greeted by Dole’s 85-year-old widow, former senator Elizabeth Dole. The group then slowly proceeded into the Rotunda, where about 100 chairs were arranged in concentric circles around the Lincoln catafalque, a wooden platform where Dole’s casket would rest.

Elizabeth Dole placed her head on the casket of her late-husband, former senator Robert J Dole, as he lay in state in the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 9. (Video: The Washington Post)

Biden, Vice President Harris and several members of Congress — including the delegation from Dole’s home state of Kansas — stood and placed their hands over their hearts as Dole’s casket entered the Rotunda. Dole will lie in state until Friday morning. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no public viewing.

Dole, a World War II veteran who was awarded two Purple Hearts, 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 but losing to incumbent Bill Clinton.

On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Dole kept true to his roots through his decades in public service and “built brighter futures for millions” of Americans.

“A son of Dust Bowl hardship who was laser focused on food security and rural issues. A wounded warrior who spent decades carrying fellow veterans and Americans with disabilities on his shoulders,” McConnell said. “Bob was the last of the Greatest Generation to run for president, but he was never stuck in the past. His roots ran deep, but he was always looking to new horizons.”

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)

To pay tribute to Dole was to honor someone “who redefined and elevated what it means to serve country,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in his tribute.

“By 21, Bob had given more of himself than most of us give in a lifetime,” he said, referring to the World War II wounds that nearly took Dole’s life. “Then he kept going for 77 years after that. And, my God, it was 77 years well spent.”

As she has in the days leading up to the Capitol ceremony, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) emphasized Dole’s ability to work across the aisle and his commitment to duty, civility, integrity and respect.

“Working in a bipartisan way, Senator Dole addressed hunger in America by expanding food stamps, fought for respect for people with disabilities by enshrining essential protections into the law with the [Americans With Disabilities Act] — again in a bipartisan way,” Pelosi said. “He taught us over time and all the time to respect people for what they can do and not judge them for what they cannot.”

In addition to his formidable record, Dole possessed a great wit, which he was quick to exercise, those who worked with him remembered Thursday.

“They once asked him why in God’s name did he vote to continue to fund Amtrak? He said, because if he didn’t, Biden would stay overnight and cause more trouble,” Biden recalled, as the crowd laughed. “I commuted every day. It’s a true story. He was the deciding vote.”

McConnell asserted that Dole could have made a career as a stand-up comic and said that Dole once joked to him that if he had known Republicans would win control of the Senate, “we’d have run better candidates.”

In the days after his death, tributes to Dole poured forth from Biden, former presidents, his former colleagues and current members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. They honored Dole’s service to the country and his devotion to veterans and people with disabilities.

In a statement Sunday, former president George W. Bush said he would always remember Dole’s rising from his wheelchair, with the help of an aide, to give a final salute to Bush’s late father, former president George H.W. Bush, when Bush was lying in state at the Capitol in 2018.

“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.

A formal ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Friday before the casket is taken from the Rotunda. A live-streamed memorial service for Dole will be held at Washington National Cathedral later Friday morning, with tributes from Biden, former senators Pat Roberts and Tom Daschle, and Dole’s daughter, Robin Dole. The service will also be live-streamed on large screens at the World War II Memorial on the Mall.

At 1:15 p.m. Friday, Dole’s motorcade will pause at the memorial for a ceremony paying tribute to his life and military service. Expected to deliver remarks are Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; actor Tom Hanks; and “Today” show co-host Savannah Guthrie.

Despite being on opposite sides of the aisle, Biden and Dole had a close friendship for almost half a century. Biden, who represented Delaware in the Senate from 1973 to 2009, recalled Sunday that Dole never hesitated to work with him or other Democrats “when it mattered most,” although they often disagreed.

Photos: The scene as former senator Robert J. Dole lies in state at the U.S. Capitol

Biden praised Dole’s 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 in a statement. “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.’ ”

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