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Bob Dole: Former US Senate leader dies at 98

TOPEKA, KAN. – Bob Dole, who overcame the wounds of war to become the sharpest Senate leader from Kansas, a Republican presidential candidate and later an icon and celebrity of the generation of veterans His dwindling World War II soldier passed away. He is 98 years old.

His wife, Elizabeth Dole, posted the announcement Sunday on Twitter.

Dole announced in February 2021 that he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. During his 36-year career on Capitol Hill, Dole has established himself as one of the most influential lawmakers and party leaders. most influential in the Senate, combining a talent for compromise with a wit, which he often attributes to himself but is not afraid to reveal to others. , too.

During his 36-year career on Capitol Hill, Dole has established himself as one of the most influential lawmakers and party leaders in the Senate, combining his talent for compromise with a wit that he often self-deprecated. for themselves but do not hesitate to reveal to others. , too.

He shaped tax policy, foreign policy, farm and nutrition programs, and disability rights, following through on protections against discrimination in employment, education, and services. public service under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Today’s easily accessible government offices and national parks, sidewalk ramps, and sign language interpreters at official local events are just some of the clearer signs of heritage. his and that of fellow legislators he rounded up for that sweeping civil rights act 30 years ago.

Dole dedicated the last years of his life to the cause of wounded veterans, their fallen comrades at Arlington National Cemetery, and remembering the generation that died during World War II.

Thousands of elderly soldiers gathered on the National Mall in 2004 for what Dole, speaking at a World War II memorial there, called “our final reunion.” He was the driving force to create it.

Then, he said, “Our rankings have been going downhill. “However, if we gather in the sunset, it will be brightened by the knowledge that we have kept the faith with our comrades.”

Long away from Kansas, Dole made a living in the capital, the center of power, and then sank into its shadow in retirement, living all the time at the high-rise Watergate complex. When he left politics and joined a law firm run by prominent Democrats, he joked that he brought his dog to work so he could have another Republican. to talk.

He tried three times to become president. The last time was in 1996, when he won the Republican nomination only to see Bill Clinton re-elected. He sought his party’s presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988 and was the GOP vice presidential candidate in 1976 in a loss to Gerald Ford.

Through all of that, he bore the mark of war. While on duty at a German position in northern Italy in 1945, Dole was hit by shrapnel, which crushed two vertebrae and paralyzed his limbs. The army’s young platoon leader spent three years recuperating in the hospital and was never able to use his right hand again.

To avoid confusing those trying to shake her right hand, Dole always kept a pen in it and held out her hand to the left.

Dole can be callous to his opponents, whether Democrats or Republicans. When George HW Bush defeated him in the 1988 New Hampshire Republican primary, Dole snapped: “Stop lying about my record.” If that pales in comparison to the scorching insults in politics today, it was shocking at the time.

But when Bush died in December 2018, old rivals were forgotten when Dole appeared before Bush’s casket at the Capitol Rotunda. As an aide lifted him out of his wheelchair, the sick and sad Dole slowly stabilized himself and saluted his arch-enemy with his left hand, chin quivering.

During a debate with the vice president two decades earlier with Walter Mondale, Dole famously and boldly branded all of America’s wars of that century as “Party Wars.” Democracy”. Mondale countered that Dole had just “gained a reputation as a fisherman.”

At first, Dole denied saying what he had just said on that public stage, then backed off, and finally admitted that he had gone too far. “I had to go test the plane,” he said, “and I did – my own.”

For all his naked manners, he was a deep believer in the Senate as an institution and earned the respect, even affection, of many Democrats. . Just days after Dole announced his diagnosis with a serious cancer, President Joe Biden visited him at his home to wish him well. The White House said the two have been close friends since their Senate days.

Dole won a seat in Congress in 1960, representing a district west of Kansas House. He moved to the Senate eight years after Republican incumbent Frank Carlson retired.

There, he railed against his Senate colleagues with partisan rhetoric and fierce satire, at the behest of President Richard Nixon. The Kansan was rewarded for his loyalty to the Republican National Committee chairmanship in 1971, before Nixon’s presidency fell apart in the Watergate scandal.

He served as committee chair, majority leader, and minority leader in the Senate throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Overall, he was the Republican leader in the Senate for nearly 11 and a half years, a record until Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell broke it in 2018. It was during this period that he gained a reputation as an astute, pragmatic, tireless legislator. in fashion compromises.

After Republicans gained control of the Senate, Dole became the chairman of the tax-writing finance committee and won acclaim from deficit holders and others for his handling of the 1982 tax bill. , in which he convinced Ronald Reagan’s White House to go along with the $100 billion increase in revenue. to reduce the federal budget deficit.

But some more conservative Republicans were appalled that Dole had pushed for higher taxes. Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich called him “a tax collector for the welfare state.”

Dole became leader of the Senate in 1985 and served as majority or minority leader, depending on which party was in power, until he resigned in 1996 to pursue the presidency fully. .

That campaign, Dole’s last, was fraught with problems from the start. He ran out of money in the spring, and Democratic ads painted the GOP candidate and the party’s divisive House speaker, Gingrich, in the same brushstroke: as Republicans moved to do away with Medicare. . Clinton won by a large margin.

He also faces questions about his age because he ran for president at the age of 73 – before Biden was elected weeks before turning 78 in 2020.

Revealed about her private life, Dole became an elderly statesman who helped Clinton get through the chemical weapons treaty. He also praised his wife’s political ambitions. Elizabeth Dole unsuccessfully ran for president of the Republican Party in 2000, then served one term as a senator from North Carolina.

Dole also considers herself a self-deprecating salesman for the anti-impotence drug Viagra and other products.

He also continued to comment on issues and endorse political candidates.

In 2016, Dole initially supported former Florida Governor Jeb Bush for the GOP presidential nomination. He then warmed to Donald Trump and eventually endorsed him.

But six weeks after the 2020 election, with Trump still refusing to give in and promoting baseless claims of voter fraud, Dole told The Kansas City Star, “The election is over.”

“It’s been quite a bitter pill for Trump, but it’s the truth he lost,” he said.

In September 2017, Congress voted to award Dole the highest expression of appreciation for outstanding contributions to the nation, a Congressional Gold Medal. That comes a decade after he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Congress honored Dole again in 2019 by promoting him from Army Captain to Colonel, in recognition of military service that earned him two Purple Hearts.

Robert Joseph Dole was born on July 22, 1923, in Russell, a farming and petroleum community in western Kansas. He was the eldest in a family of four children. His father sold ice cream and eggs and ran a grain elevator, and his mother sold sewing machines and vacuum cleaners to help support the family during the recession. Dole attended the University of Kansas for two years before enlisting in the army in 1943.

Dole met Phyllis Holden, a therapist at a military hospital, while he was recovering from war wounds in 1948. They were married and had one daughter, Robin. The couple would divorce in 1972.

Dole began her political career as a student at Washburn University, winning a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives.

He met his second wife, Elizabeth Dole, while she was working for the Nixon White House. She also served on the Federal Trade Commission and was transportation and labor secretary while Dole was in the Senate. They got married in 1975.

Dole published a memoir of her wartime experiences and recovery, “A Soldier’s Story,” in 2005. The Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas maintains an archive of the World War II veteran from Kansas.

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Associated Press writers Jennifer C. Kerr and Candace Smith contributed to this report.

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