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Bob Dole honored as 'American giant' in tributes by Biden, congressional leaders

President Joe Biden spoke at the ceremony honoring his longtime friend and Senate colleague, who will lie in state at the Capitol.

President Joe Biden and congressional leaders paid tribute Thursday to the late Sen. Bob Dole in the U.S. Capitol, where Dole, a war hero and former Senate Republican leader who was the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, will lie in state.

"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 told the crowd seated around Dole's flag-draped casket at the invitation-only event. Among those in attendance were Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Dole's widow Elizabeth Dole and daughter Robin.

Dole will lie in state through the day Thursday, but there will no public viewing because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dole represented Kansas constituents for 36 years, first as a House member and then as a senator.

"Bob Dole loved this Capitol," Biden said of his former Senate colleague. "He belongs here."

"Like many of us today we disagreed on a number things, but not on any of the fundamental things. We still found a way to work together. We genuinely respected one another as colleagues and fellow Americans," Biden said.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden at the casket of former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, as he lies in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 9, 2021.Shawn Thew / Pool via AP

Biden spoke about Dole at an event in Missouri on Wednesday, calling him "an American giant."

"Our nation owes Bob Dole a debt of gratitude for his remarkable service and a life well-lived," he said.

McConnell remembered Dole at the tribute as "laser focused on food insecurity and rural issues."

"Bob was the last of the greatest generation to run for president, but he was never stuck in the past," McConnell said. “He was always looking for new horizons."

Dole, who died in his sleep Sunday at age 98, was a strong advocate for the Americans with Disabilities Act, helped create the food stamp program and was held in high regard by politicians in both parties. President Bill Clinton awarded Dole the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1997, just months after he defeated him in the presidential election. And in 2018, Dole was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, making him only the eighth senator to have received the honor.

Dole resigned from his Senate seat in 1996 to run against Clinton, ending a 12 year-stint as his party's leader in the chamber. The record streak as Republican leader was broken by McConnell of Kentucky in 2018.

Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, rests her head on the casket of her husband, former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, as he lies in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 9, 2021.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via AP, Pool

McConnell recalled then-Majority Leader Dole once quipping that if he'd known "that we were going to gain control of the Senate, we'd have run better candidates."

But Dole's public service predated his time in Washington.

Dole, a native Kansan, enlisted in the Army’s Enlisted Reserve Corps after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, and was called up to active duty in June 1943. As he was fighting in Italy two years later, Dole went to retrieve the body of his platoon's radio man on a hill covered with land mines and was severely injured by enemy fire. His right arm was shredded, his collarbone was broken, and he was paralyzed from the neck down. He was on the hill for 10 hours before he was evacuated.

"He’d taken the fight to the Nazis and nearly paid with his life," McConnell said Thursday.

Dole spent more than three years in hospitals and eventually regained use of his left arm after a series of operations.

A fiscal conservative, Dole was first elected to the U.S. House in 1960. He supported both the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act a year later.

Dole was elected to the Senate in 1968, and it was there that he had the most impact. He was the chair of the Republican National Committee for much of Richard Nixon's presidency, and in 1976 he became President Gerald Ford's running mate; they lost to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.

After Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in the 1980 presidential race, Dole, then the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, helped enact Reagan's tax and spending cuts. He also teamed up with Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., to help save Social Security in 1983.

Dole kept busy after his 1996 White House bid. He starred in television commercials for Viagra, Visa and other brands, and he championed construction of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall.

In addition to his political accomplishments, Dole was famed for his biting — and often self-deprecating — sense of humor. He wrote three books, one of them titled "Great Presidential Wit: I Wish I Was in the Book."

He also remained a steadfast Republican, and he was the only former GOP presidential nominee to appear at the 2016 Republican National Convention, where Donald Trump was nominated.

"I'm a Trumper," he told USA Today in July. "I'm sort of Trumped out, though."

Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole and their daughter Robin watch as a joint services military bearer team moves the casket of her husband former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., during the arrival at the U.S. Capitol, where he will lie in state in the Rotunda on Dec. 9, 2021.Anna Moneymaker / Pool via AP

No cause of death has been announced. Dole said this year that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. “While I certainly have some hurdles ahead, I also know that I join millions of Americans who face significant health challenges of their own,” he said.

He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, a former Republican senator from North Carolina who was a member of Reagan's and President George H.W. Bush's Cabinets, and a daughter, Robin.

A funeral service will be held Friday at Washington National Cathedral, where Biden is also scheduled to speak. Dole's body will then be flown back to Kansas.