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Bipartisan tributes pour in after death of Bob Dole

The former GOP presidential candidate and World War II hero passed away in his sleep at 98.
Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., smiles before receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1997.
Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., smiles before he receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1997.Wally McNamee / Corbis via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats in Congress sent an outpouring of tributes and condolences Sunday following the news of the death of Bob Dole, the onetime GOP presidential candidate and World War II hero. He was 98.

"It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep," the Elizabeth Dole Foundation said in a statement. "At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at the Capitol.

President Joe Biden described Dole as a man with "an unerring sense of integrity and honor" in a statement Sunday afternoon.

The two spent years on opposite sides of the Senate, but Biden noted that despite their policy disagreements, Dole never hesitated to work with Democrats on important bipartisan efforts.

“Bob was an American statesman like few in our history. A war hero and among the greatest of the Greatest Generation,” Biden said. “And to me, he was also a friend whom I could look to for trusted guidance, or a humorous line at just the right moment to settle frayed nerves.”

Former President George W. Bush noted Dole's commitment to defending American values through his military service and political career. He added that the entire Bush family, including his late father, benefited from the privilege of Dole's friendship.

"I will always remember Bob’s salute to my late dad at the Capitol, and now we Bushes salute Bob and give thanks for his life of principled service," Bush said in a statement. "Laura and I send our heartfelt condolences to Elizabeth and join our fellow citizens in prayer for her comfort.”

Former President Bill Clinton paid tribute in a tweet. The two faced off when Dole was chosen to be the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, challenging Clinton's re-election bid.

"Bob Dole dedicated his entire life to serving the American people, from his heroism in World War II to the 35 years he spent in Congress," Clinton wrote. "After all he gave in the war, he didn’t have to give more. But he did. His example should inspire people today and for generations to come."

In a statement, former President Barack Obama said Dole was "a war hero, a political leader, and a statesman — with a career and demeanor harkening back to a day when members of the Greatest Generation abided by a certain code, putting country over party.”

Former President Donald Trump also offered a brief statement, calling Dole a "true patriot" and an American war hero.

"He served the Great State of Kansas with honor and the Republican Party was made stronger by his service," Trump said. "Our Nation mourns his passing, and our prayers are with Elizabeth and his wonderful family."

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said Dole was a hero "who fought back from near death and went on to continue serving the nation for decades in the U.S. Senate."

"His courage and dedication to this country are an inspiration," Scalise said.

Dole revealed in February that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and was starting treatment.

Dole, a native of Russell, Kansas, championed reforming the federal food stamp program and bringing awareness to disabilities.

Dole had an impressive political run apart from his unsuccessful quest for the presidency. He was the top-ranking Republican in the Senate for nearly 11 years.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called him a "giant of the Senate."

"I remember the large number of Republican and Democratic Senators gathering on the Floor to praise him when he stepped down from the Senate," Leahy said in a statement. "Traveling with him, working with him and writing legislation with him are among my fondest memories of the Senate."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, issued a statement remembering Dole's life work and his legacy in Congress.

“Today, we salute Senator Bob Dole and celebrate the courage, determination, and devotion to duty he demonstrated not just on that unforgettable day, but throughout his remarkable life," she said.

Collins recounted the touching moment in 2018 when former President George H.W. Bush lay in state in the U.S. Capitol and Dole — "in a moment that will live forever in our national memory" — rose from his wheelchair and with his left arm saluted "his fellow patriot."

Dole registered for the Army in 1942 and was a second lieutenant when he was sent to Italy in 1944. The following year, as he was trying to rescue an Army radioman, he was caught in a German machine gun attack, which cost him a kidney, shattered his right shoulder and damaged his neck and spine. He was temporarily paralyzed from the neck down.

His arms never fully recovered, his legs remained partly numb for the rest of his life, and he never got back the use of his right arm.