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Biden hails ‘genuine hero’ Dole as a statesman and Republican open to bipartisan compromise

Former senator Bob Dole’s casket returns down the aisle at Washington National Cathedral following his funeral.
Former senator Bob Dole’s casket returns down the aisle at Washington National Cathedral following his funeral. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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President Biden and politicians from both sides of the aisle on Friday honored Bob Dole, hailing the late Republican senator and onetime GOP presidential nominee as a statesman who embraced compromise and envisioned government as a force for helping Americans, a stark contrast with the GOP currently led by former president Donald Trump.

Friday’s tributes included an invitation-only memorial service at Washington National Cathedral and a public ceremony at the World War II Memorial that Dole was instrumental in establishing.

Dole died Dec. 5 at 98. He had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in February.

Lauding the former Senate majority leader as a man of courage, a “proud Republican” and a “master of the Senate,” Biden detailed how, as a young man, Dole became grievously wounded in World War II when enemy fire “tore across the hills, shattering his body.”

“There’s something that connects that past and present, wartime and peace, then and now,” Biden said at Washington National Cathedral. “The courage, the grit, the goodness and the grace of a second lieutenant named 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, Bob Dole.”

Dole and Biden served together in the Senate for more than 20 years. For nearly half that time, Dole was leader of the Senate Republican Conference. Dole resigned from the Senate in 1996, during his third presidential bid. He also ran for the GOP nomination in 1980 and 1988, and was President Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976.

Speakers at Friday’s cathedral service included Biden, former senators Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), and Dole’s daughter, Robin. Among those in attendance were Dole’s widow, former senator Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.); Vice President Harris; bipartisan congressional leaders; former president Bill Clinton; and former vice presidents Mike Pence, Dan Quayle and Richard B. Cheney.

Those paying tribute to Dole Friday afternoon at the World War II Memorial included actor Tom Hanks, NBC “Today” show anchor Savannah Guthrie and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Robert J. Dole, longtime GOP leader who sought presidency 3 times, dies at 98

In 2016, Dole became the only former Republican presidential nominee to endorse Trump. But after the 2020 election, he publicly criticized Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud and said it was undeniable that Biden had won.

Several speakers on Friday praised Dole as a figure from a Republican Party — and an official Washington — that bears little resemblance to today’s rancorous capital in which votes for bipartisan legislation draws accusations of traitor. Of their years spent in the Senate together, Biden said he and Dole “disagreed, but we were never disagreeable with one another.”

Dole, Biden said, “really understood . . . compromise isn’t a dirty word, it’s the cornerstone of our democracy,” and the late senator didn’t hate government but rather “wanted government to work for folks like him who came up the hard way.”

Dole worked with Democrats to ensure passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, protect Social Security and pushed for the establishment of the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.

“As Bob Dole himself wrote at the end of his life, and I quote him, ‘I cannot pretend that I have not been a loyal champion of my party, but I’ve always served my country best when I did so first and foremost, as an American,’ ” Biden said.

“God, I loved the guy,” the president added.

Robin Dole, Bob Dole’s daughter with his first wife, Phyllis, said her father was “a giver, not a taker.”

“He cared more about others than he did about himself,” she said. “He told me he set a personal goal to help at least one person every day of his life.”

Roberts called Dole Kansas’s “favorite son” and noted how the state shaped the late lawmaker’s worldview. In particular, the small-town values of his native Russell permeated the way in which he saw the world.

Bob Dole wanted to be a doctor. One of WWII’s last battles changed everything for him.

“Whether we were in Topeka, Abilene, Wichita or Dodge City, I saw Bob Dole connect with Kansans always on a personal level,” the former lawmaker said.

Dole, who was awarded two Purple Hearts, was left with limited use of his right arm due to his war injuries and never fully regained feeling in his left. He nearly died and spent more than two years recovering in a Michigan hospital.

While many will remember the stories of Dole’s “amazing heroics and his recovery from injury in World War II,” Daschle said, there were also lesser-known stories of how Dole faced the world with humor, humanity and humility.

“Few know the Bob Dole who called a Florida dentist in 1993 to encourage him after losing his right arm and help him find a specialist to get a prosthetic arm,” Daschle said.

At the World War II Memorial, a major installation that opened in 2004 and for which the late senator long advocated, Guthrie described Dole’s life as “a flesh-and-blood monument to the values that we revere here.”

Hanks recalled how he worked with Dole to help raise money for the memorial after filming “Saving Private Ryan,” the award-winning 1998 movie about the D-Day invasion and a group of soldiers searching for a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.

“Bob Dole called this a memorial to peace, so that all generations would remember that peace is achieved in shared labor, by shared sacrifice, by volunteering for the shared duty,” Hanks said.

Dole originally enrolled in the University of Kansas with the goal of becoming a doctor. But after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he signed up for military service and was eventually injured in a battle in Italy during the final days of the war.

Milley, whose parents both served in World War II, held up Dole’s sacrifices on behalf of his country, describing the senator as “an incredible example of a lifetime of selfless service to our nation.”

“Why did Bob Dole have such a clear calling to serve?” Milley asked. “Why did he refuse to be stopped by the enemy? He did it for an idea — an idea that is America. . . . He continually raised his hand, mangled as it was, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

After Milley spoke, Elizabeth Dole and daughter Robin touched a wreath in honor of the decorated veteran and senator, and a trumpeter played taps.

Mariana Alfaro, John Wagner and Eugene Scott contributed to this report.