Bob Dole will lie in state Thursday at the US Capitol, as the president and others gather to pay tribute to an “American giant” who served the country in war and in politics with pragmatism, self-deprecating wit and a bygone era’s sense of common civility.
President Joe Biden is expected to offer remarks at the morning ceremony with invited guests and congressional leaders in the Capitol Rotunda for the former Republican senator and presidential contender. Dole, who served nearly 36 years in Congress, died on Sunday at the age of 98.
“For those like me who had the honour of calling him a friend, Bob Dole was an American giant,” President Joe Biden said in a Wednesday speech in Kansas City, Missouri.
Biden, a Democrat, called Dole, a Republican, “a man of extraordinary courage, both physical and moral courage. A war hero, who sacrificed beyond measure. Who nearly gave his life for our country in World War II. Among the greatest of the great generation.”
The service will be the first of several in Washington commemorating Dole’s life and legacy. Thursday’s event at the Capitol and Friday’s funeral at the Washington National Cathedral are closed to the public.
But Dole’s funeral will be livestreamed Friday at the Second World War Memorial on the National Mall, and his motorcade is are expected to stop by later at an event with actor Tom Hanks honouring his life and military service before the casket travels to his Kansas hometown and the state capital.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Dole was a “patriot from the start” and an “exemplary person to serve with in Congress.”
“He served at a time when there was mutual respect, even though disagreement on many issues, across the aisle, across the Capitol,” Pelosi said on Wednesday. “I found him to be a man of his word. Everybody did.”
Black draperies hung on doorways under the Capitol dome in preparation for the service. A lectern was positioned in such a way that the statue of another Kansas stateman, Dwight Eisenhower, will likely be seen in the background behind the day’s speakers.
Senator Mitch McConnell, now the longest-serving Republican Senate leader, said Dole idolised Eisenhower, calling the former president and general a hero who embodied “the finest qualities of the American people”.
“We can say with certainty that Eisenhower isn’t the only Kansan who meets those standards,” McConnell said in a speech earlier this week.
Born a child of the Dust Bowl in Russell, Kansas, Dole suffered paralysing and near-fatal wounds after being shot in the Second World War 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.
After earning a law degree, he worked as county attorney and 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. He was the GOP’s presidential nominee in 1996, his third and final campaign for president — a race he never won.
Dole’s quick wit was on display after losing the presidential contest to incumbent Democrat Bill Clinton, who awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom days before the 1997 inauguration.
McConnell said when it was time for Dole’s remarks, he stood at the podium and began: “I, Robert J Dole, so solemnly swear, oh, sorry, wrong speech!”
But that humour was rarely seen on the campaign trail or in his public pronouncements, where it could have helped him win more votes.
Instead, Dole was seen as a GOP “hatchet man,” a protege of Richard Nixon and chairman of the Republican National Committee during the Watergate era. He went on to become the sharp-tongued vice presidential running mate to Gerald Ford, another lost race.
But it was Dole’s long career in the Senate where 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.
At times, Dole bucked his own party, particularly on a landmark tax bill, and helped create the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.
The former senator announced in February 2021 a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer. Biden visited Dole at his home at the Watergate complex.