(WASHINGTON) — Former Sen. Bob Dole — a decorated World War II veteran and presidential candidate who served in Congress for 36 years — lay in state at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday as the nation honored the late American statesman.
Dole died Sunday in his sleep at the age of 98.
Dole’s wife of 46 years, Elizabeth, and daughter, Robin, were escorted by service members and alongside lawmakers for the formal arrival of Dole’s casket ahead of a congressional tribute ceremony with remarks from President Joe Biden, who worked alongside Dole in the Senate for more than 20 years and called him “a man of extraordinary courage, both physical and moral courage.”
Guests put their hands over their hearts as Dole’s casket arrived inside the building with one man donning a sunflower mask, the state flower of Kansas, Dole’s home state.
The Capitol ceremony began with an invocation by House Chaplain Margaret Kibben who said Dole has “revealed to us what moral and faithful service should be.”
“In extolling Sen. Dole’s unequal integrity, disarming humor, and deep compassion, may we be inspired to reach into the depths of our own small-town virtues or our big city bravado to emulate this plain spokesman statesman, this decorated war hero, this, your, humble servant,” she said in an opening prayer.
Biden, in his remarks, first thanked Dole’s daughter and wife, who also served in the Senate, representing North Carolina, for allowing the ceremony to take place. He then said, “America has lost one of our finest patriots.”
“We meet here in the very heart of American democracy, the Capitol of the United States of America, to receive a hero of that democracy for a final time,” Biden began. “Robert Joseph Dole belongs here in this place, in this temple of liberty to liberty and temple to possibilities.”
“He, too, was a giant of our history, and that’s not hyperbole,” Biden said, after listing great leaders in American history, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King Jr. “It’s real. Of wit and grace, of principle and persistence, of courage and conviction.”
The president shared a light-hearted, personal story before reading a portion of Dole’s final message to the nation, adding that, “Bob deserves the final word.”
“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 said to laughter. “Bob and I, like many of us here, we disagreed on a number of things, but not on any of the fundamental things. We still found a way to work together.”
“As divided as we are, the only way forward for democracy is unity, consensus,” Biden said. “We can find that unity again.”
Biden will also deliver a eulogy at Dole’s memorial service on Friday at Washington National Cathedral, which will air on ABC News and ABC News Live.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered words on Dole’s management in the Senate, with Dole having served twice as majority leader for Republicans, and got laughs when describing Dole’s “trademark wit.”
“‘If I’d known, he said, we were going to win control of the Senate, we’d run better candidates,'” McConnell recalled. “I swear, Bob could have made it as a stand-up comic. But in that maiden speech, Bob was earnest. He was already championing a signature cause, helping Americans with disabilities,” McConnell said, garnering a nod from Vice President Kamala Harris, who sat in the socially-distanced audience.
Sen. Mitch McConnell remarks on former Sen. Bob Dole’s humor, and his longevity: “The real engine behind Bob’s 98 remarkable years was his love. His love for Elizabeth and for Robin. For public service. For Kansas. And for America.” https://t.co/1BpVNoehjf pic.twitter.com/MobD1m2yaW
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) December 9, 2021
Thursday’s ceremony at the Capitol was open only to invited guests, lawmakers said, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the public can watch online as he lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda until 8 p.m. — an honor reserved for the most revered American officials.
Honor guards greeted the body of the late senator shortly after 9:45 a.m. on Thursday and carried his casket up the steps of the building Dole served in for nearly four decades. The last senator to lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda was the late Sen. John McCain in 2018. Twelve U.S. presidents have also had the honor.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) December 9, 2021
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who reminded in her remarks that Dole’s service to Congress began in the House, blew former Sen. Elizabeth Dole a kiss as she went to speak. First lady Jill Biden and Elizabeth Dole also blew each other kisses as Biden began.
To conclude the ceremony, a military band played “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” a song put to music by William Runyan in Kansas in 1923. A wreath with white and red roses was presented by Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, while the Senate wreath was brought out by McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
At one point, in an emotional moment, Elizabeth Dole laid her head on her late husband’s casket and briefly looked up to the Rotunda.
Dole was severely wounded in action while serving as an Army officer in World War II and left with limited mobility in his right arm — but he persevered. From humble beginnings, Dole went on to graduate law school, serve in the Kansas state legislature and then four terms in the House of Representatives and five terms in the Senate. He also led the Senate Republican Conference for more than a decade and was the longest-serving Republican leader until recently surpassed by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
In Congress, Dole helped shape tax, social security and foreign policy, as well as government farm and nutrition programs. He was an advocate for the rights of veterans and Americans with disabilities, instrumental in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
He was known as one of the “last lions of the Senate.”
Dole ran for president three times, losing primaries in 1980 to Ronald Reagan and in 1988 to George H.W. Bush. After winning the Republican party nomination in 1996, he lost the general election to Bill Clinton, who later presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In a USA Today op-ed Dole finished on pen and paper less than two weeks before his death, he said Congress needs teamwork now more than ever, and wrote, “Those who suggest that compromise is a sign of weakness misunderstand the fundamental strength of our democracy.”
A formal departure ceremony from the Capitol will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Friday ahead of a funeral at Washington National Cathedral and ceremony at the World War II Memorial with remarks from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
Dole’s body will then be flown to Kansas for services in his home state.
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