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At Bob Dole's funeral, Biden recalls bipartisanship of a bygone era

·Senior Writer
·3-min read
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As they sat inside Washington National Cathedral awaiting the arrival of President Biden at the funeral of the late Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., on Friday, former President Bill Clinton chatted with former Vice President Dan Quayle. To Quayle’s left was former Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Mike Pence. Across the aisle, Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, sat patiently. A few rows away, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — one of the few attendees not wearing a mask — smiled as he talked with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer scoured the funeral program while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell checked his phone.

They all stood as Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff took their seats, and stood again as Dole’s casket was carried into the cathedral.

It would be unremarkable if it wasn’t such a rare occurrence in Washington: lawmakers, leaders and luminaries from both parties coming together with a shared purpose — in this case, honoring the life of Dole, the former Republican Senate leader, 1996 Republican presidential nominee and World War II hero, who died Sunday at age 98.

Former President Bill Clinton and ex-Vice Presidents Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney and Mike Pence.
From left: former President Bill Clinton and ex-Vice Presidents Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney and Mike Pence attend the funeral service for the late Sen. Bob Dole at Washington National Cathedral on Friday. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden, who was elected to the Senate in 1972, four years after Dole, and served 25 years alongside him, recalled the respect they had for each other — and the bipartisanship of a bygone era.

“We disagreed, but we were never disagreeable with one another,” Biden said in his eulogy. “I found Bob to be a man of principle, pragmatism and enormous integrity. He came into the arena with certain guiding principles to begin with: devotion to country, to fair play, to decency, to dignity, to honor, to literally attempting to find the common good.”

Growing up in a blue-collar family in Depression-era Kansas, Dole rose to become a fixture in Washington, D.C. Badly wounded in action in Italy, he lost the use of his right arm, but reached the peak of Republican politics, serving as the party’s presidential nominee, vice presidential nominee and Senate leader in a career that spanned nearly four decades.

Dole was also known for having a sharp sense of humor. The president recounted the time Dole broke with his party to keep funding for Amtrak, which Biden famously used to commute to Washington from Delaware as a senator.

“He was asked, ‘Why, why would you do that?’ He said, ‘It’s the best way to get Joe Biden the hell out of here at night,’” the president said to laughter. “Excuse my language. It’s a true story, absolutely true story.”

President Biden touches Bob Dole's casket.
President Biden touches the casket of the late Sen. Bob Dole before delivering his eulogy. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Biden also pointed to numerous examples of Dole working with Democrats to pass bipartisan legislation, including the bill that made Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday.

“Over the opposition of many in his own party and some in mine, he managed to build consensus and create the federal holiday in the name of Martin Luther King Jr.,” he said. “Bob Dole did that.

“He never forgot where he came from, and I never forgot what he said to our colleagues about the effort for the King holiday,” Biden continued. “He said, ‘No first-class democracy can treat people like second-class citizens.’

“Bob Dole was a man of his word. He loved his country, which he served his whole life. And Bob Dole, for all his hardship, believed he’d been given the greatest gift of all: He was an American. He was an American. And he felt it.”

After the president, former Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Tom Daschle, D-S.D., also spoke, as did Dole’s daughter, Robin.

The ceremony concluded with Lee Greenwood singing “God Bless the USA.”

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