When it was Vice President Mike Pence’s turn to honor former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday, he praised the Kansan for a decision he made during his 1996 run for the White House.
“There was one moment in his life that seemed for me to embody the character of this great American,” Pence said, speaking at a ceremony to present Dole with a Congressional Gold Medal.
The vice president said Dole’s decision to resign from his post as majority leader and from the Senate itself to allow him to focus on his campaign was a selfless act that allowed the Senate and Kansas to have fully committed leadership — and underscored the best of America.
“As the Senate majority leader, Bob Dole had one of the most powerful positions in Washington, D.C. — a role that would have been waiting for him if he had lost the race for the White House,” Pence said. “Bob Dole went to the floor of the United States Senate and did what other statesmen have done in the history of this nation, and he voluntarily relinquished a position of authority.”
Pence, who frequently greets visitors in the Rotunda during his travels through the Capitol, turned away from the bulk of the cameras for a moment to the 1817 painting hanging nearby, John Trumbull’s “General George Washington Resigning His Commission.”
Watch: What You Didn’t See at Dole’s Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony
Dole first came to Congress in 1961, having been elected to represent the 1st Congressional District of Kansas. He would serve in the House until joining the Senate in 1969, where he would serve in numerous leadership posts until his departure in 1996 as majority leader.
There was no shortage of stories about Dole’s heroism serving in World War II.
“Back in 1942, just a teenager, he’d raised his right hand and enlisted in the Army. That oath took him to the hills of Italy. One day, his company took heavy fire. A Nazi shell ripped into his shoulder. And although 2nd Lieutenant Robert J. Dole of the 10th Mountain Division beat the odds and recovered, he would live with his war wounds every day thereafter,” said current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “Because of how faithfully he fulfilled that first oath, Bob Dole could no longer raise his right hand. But he wasn’t done serving his country.”
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Many of the speakers focused on the work Dole did both as a senator and after for fellow military veterans and those with disabilities.
President Donald Trump highlighted Dole’s lasting physical legacy, the national World War II Memorial, which is visible from the Capitol balcony bearing Dole’s name.
“Long after we are gone, when our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren visit that extraordinary tribute on the National Mall, they will no longer find World War II veterans gazing up at their memorial to their friends and their deeds; they will be gone,” Trump said. “But they will still stand in the place where our heroes have stood for so many years. Their hearts will be filled by the beauty and reverence of that grand memorial, and they will hear the story of a great man who rose up from a small town in the heart of America to become a soldier, and a congressman, and leader admired by all.”
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland recalled working with Dole on the creation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Hoyer said Dole’s courage also came out long after he left the Senate, when he led an ill-fated push to convince Republicans to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“He came to the Senate floor in 2012 in his wheelchair to advocate again for those with disabilities around the world, frankly against some in his party’s opposition,” Hoyer said.
The ceremony to present the high honor to Dole attracted — in addition to Trump, Pence, and the top congressional leaders in both parties — an abundance of allies and adversaries from years past.
Former Vice President Dan Quayle was on hand. So were former GOP senators like Richard G. Lugar, John W. Warner and Trent Lott, as well as Democrats like John B. Breaux, Tom Harkin and Christopher J. Dodd.
The afternoon featured some levity as well. McConnell spoke about how he and Dole now share the honor of being the only men to be married to women who have served as the secretaries of both the Labor and Transportation departments.
But Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer may have offered the most amusing anecdote.
“Though I’ve never served with him in the Senate, I am unfortunately familiar with his trademark wit. Sen. Dole is responsible for a certain quotation that hounded me for many years: ‘Apparently the most dangerous place in Washington is between Chuck Schumer and a camera,’” said the New York Democrat. “Perhaps a grain of truth.”
Schumer used the bit of self-deprecation to highlight one of Dole’s other lasting legacies: the increased accessibility of the Senate to the public through daily video broadcasts of the chamber proceedings.
“Sen. Dole, I bear you no ill will,” Schumer said. “After all, you were the one who brought C-SPAN to the Senate. I never would have found as many TV cameras without you.”
Closing the ceremony for the 94-year-old Dole was Senate Chaplain Barry Black, who gave a nod to the reality of the legendary leader’s age and health, with prayers for Dole and his wife, former North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole.
“One day may they both hear you say, well done good and faithful servants, enter into the joys of your Lord,” Black said.