Bob Dole

Bob Dole, Former Senator and Republican Presidential Candidate, Dies at 98

Dole had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer earlier this year

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A look at some key moments in the life of Bob Dole.

Bob Dole, who overcame disabling war wounds to become a sharp-tongued Senate leader from Kansas, a Republican presidential candidate and then a symbol and celebrant of his dwindling generation of World War II veterans, has died. He was 98.

His wife, Elizabeth Dole, said in an announcement posted on social media that he died early Sunday morning in his sleep.

Dole announced in February 2021 that he’d been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. During his 36-year career on Capitol Hill, Dole became one of the most influential legislators and party leaders in the Senate, combining a talent for compromise with a caustic wit, which he often turned on himself but didn’t hesitate to turn on others, too.

Former Kansas senator and 1996 Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole revealed on Thursday that he will begin treatment next week for stage 4 lung cancer, saying, “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 shaped tax policy, foreign policy, farm and nutrition programs and rights for the disabled, enshrining protections against discrimination in employment, education and public services in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Today’s accessible government offices and national parks, sidewalk ramps and the sign-language interpreters at official local events are just some of the more visible hallmarks of his legacy and that of the fellow lawmakers he rounded up for that sweeping civil rights legislation 30 years ago.

Dole devoted his later years to the cause of wounded veterans, their fallen comrades at Arlington National Cemetery and remembrance of the fading generation of World War II vets.

Thousands of old soldiers massed on the National Mall in 2004 for what Dole, speaking at the dedication of the World War II Memorial there, called “our final reunion.” He’d been a driving force in its creation.

“Our ranks have dwindled,” he said then. “Yet if we gather in the twilight it is brightened by the knowledge that we have kept faith with our comrades.”

Long gone from Kansas, Dole made his life in the capital, at the center of power and then in its shadow upon his retirement, living all the while at the storied Watergate complex. When he left politics and joined a law firm staffed by prominent Democrats, he joked that he brought his dog to work so he would have another Republican to talk to.

He tried three times to become president. The last was in 1996, when he won the Republican nomination only to see President Bill Clinton reelected. He sought his party’s presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988 and was the 1976 GOP vice presidential candidate on the losing ticket with President Gerald Ford.

Through all of that, he carried the mark of war. Charging a German position in northern Italy in 1945, Dole was hit by a shell fragment that crushed two vertebrae and paralyzed his arms and legs. The young Army platoon leader spent three years recovering in a hospital and never regained use of his right hand.

To avoid embarrassing those trying to shake his right hand, Dole always clutched a pen in it and reached out with his left.

Dole could be merciless with his rivals, whether Democrat or Republican. When George H.W. Bush defeated him in the 1988 New Hampshire Republican primary, Dole snapped: “Stop lying about my record.” If that pales next to the scorching insults in today’s political arena, it was shocking at the time.

But when Bush died in December 2018, old rivalries were forgotten as Dole appeared before Bush’s casket in the Capitol Rotunda. As an aide lifted him from his wheelchair, an ailing and sorrowful Dole slowly steadied himself and saluted his one-time nemesis with his left hand, his chin quivering.

While paying his respects to former President George H.W. Bush at the Capitol, former Sen. Bob Dole is helped out of his wheelchair to salute the casket of the former president.

In a vice presidential debate two decades earlier with Walter Mondale, Dole had famously and audaciously branded all of America’s wars that century “Democrat wars.” Mondale shot back that Dole had just “richly earned his reputation as a hatchet man.”

Dole at first denied saying what he had just said on that very public stage, then backed down, and eventually acknowledged he’d gone too far. “I was supposed to go for the jugular,” he said, “and I did — my own.”

For all of his bare-knuckle ways, he was a deep believer in the Senate as an institution and commanded respect and even affection from many Democrats. Just days after Dole announced his dire cancer diagnosis, President Joe Biden visited him at his home to wish him well. The White House said the two were close friends from their days in the Senate.

Biden recalled in a statement Sunday that one of his first meetings outside the White House after being sworn-in as president was with the Doles at their Washington home.

“Like all true friendships, regardless of how much time has passed, we picked up right where we left off, as though it were only yesterday that we were sharing a laugh in the Senate dining room or debating the great issues of the day, often against each other, on the Senate floor,” Biden said. “I saw in his eyes the same light, bravery, and determination I’ve seen so many times before.”

Biden ordered that U.S. flags be flown at half-staff at the White House and all public buildings and grounds until sunset Thursday.

Dole won a seat in Congress in 1960, representing a western Kansas House district. He moved up to the Senate eight years later when Republican incumbent Frank Carlson retired.

There, he antagonized his Senate colleagues with fiercely partisan and sarcastic rhetoric, delivered at the behest of President Richard Nixon. The Kansan was rewarded for his loyalty with the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee in 1971, before Nixon’s presidency collapsed in the Watergate scandal.

He served as a committee chairman, majority leader and minority leader in the Senate during the 1980s and ’90s. Altogether, he was the Republicans’ leader in the Senate for nearly 11½ years, a record until Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell broke it in 2018. It was during this period that he earned a reputation as a shrewd, pragmatic legislator, tireless in fashioning compromises.

After Republicans won Senate control, Dole became chairman of the tax-writing Finance Committee and won acclaim from deficit hawks and others for his handling of a 1982 tax bill, in which he persuaded Ronald Reagan’s White House to go along with increasing revenues by $100 billion to ease the federal budget deficit.

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

Dole became Senate leader in 1985 and served as either majority or minority leader, depending on which party was in charge, until he resigned in 1996 to devote himself to pursuit of the presidency.

“When Bob asked you to do something, that was it. I can tell you so many things we were able to solve by invoking Bob’s name,” said former GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, who served alongside Dole in Kansas' congressional delegation.

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

Dole became Senate leader in 1985 and served as either majority or minority leader, depending on which party was in charge, until he resigned in 1996 to devote himself to pursuit of the presidency.

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, with the same brush: as Republicans out to eliminate Medicare. Clinton won by a large margin.

He also faced questions about his age because he was running for president at age 73 — well before Biden was elected weeks before turning 78 in 2020.

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<strong>Honor Blackman — Actor<br></strong><br>English actor Honor Blackman pose for a portrait in Cannes, France, Jan. 24, 1965. Blackman, best known for <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://uat.nbcwpshield.com/entertainment/entertainment-news/honor-blackman-who-played-bonds-pussy-galore-dies-at-94/" target="_blank">her roles as Pussy Galore and as Cathy Gale in British series "The Avengers,"</a> died on April 6 of natural causes, according to her family. She was 94.
Michael Putland/Getty Images
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Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic
<strong>James Lipton — Writer </strong><br><br>James Lipton attends the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Lipton died on Mar. 2, 2020<strong>,</strong> at the age of 93, according to TMZ.
Selahattin Yilmaz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
<strong>Hosni Mubarak — Former President of Egypt</strong><br><br>Former President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak holds a joint press conference with former President Bill Clinton (not pictured) at the Counter Terrorism Summit in Washington, D.C., March 13, 1996. <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://uat.nbcwpshield.com/news/national-international/egypt-state-tv-ex-president-mubarak-has-died-at-91" target="_blank">Mubarak died on Feb. 25, 2020</a>, at the age of 91, following years of illness, according to local media.
NASA/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images
<strong>Katherine Johnson — NASA Scientist and Mathematician </strong><br><br><a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://uat.nbcwpshield.com/news/national-international/katherine-johnson-nasa-mathematician-portrayed-in-film-hidden-figures-dies-at-101" target="_blank">Katherine Johnson, NASA physicist, space scientist, and mathematician</a>, poses for a portrait circa 1960 in Hampton, Virginia. Johnson, who was known for her work calculating rocket trajectories by hand, died at the age of 101 on Feb. 24, during Black History Month.
(Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
<strong>Lynn Cohen - Actor</strong><br><br>Lynn Cohen, an actress best known for playing the plainspoken housekeeper and nanny Magda in “Sex and the City,” died Friday, Feb. 14, 2020 in New York City. She was 86.
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<strong>Kirk Douglas – Actor</strong><br><br>Hollywood icon Kirk Douglas was one of the final links to cinema's Golden Age, as well as the patriarch who presided over a family of actors, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://uat.nbcwpshield.com/news/national-international/actor-kirk-douglas-hollywoods-spartacus-dies-at-103" target="_blank">before his death at 103</a>. His son and fellow actor Michael Douglas announced his father's death on Feb. 6, saying on Instagram, "I am so proud to be your son."
AP Photo/Andy King, File
<strong>Chris Doleman – Defensive end for Minnesota, Atlanta and San Francisco</strong><br><br>Former NFL defensive end <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://uat.nbcwpshield.com/news/national-international/hall-of-fame-de-chris-doleman-dies-at-age-58" target="_blank">Chris Doleman</a> died on Jan. 28, 2020 after battling cancer. Doleman, who was one of the NFL's most feared pass rushers, was 58.
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, file
<strong>Kobe Bryant – Former Los Angeles Lakers NBA Star</strong><br><br>Kobe Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and who became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, <a href="https://uat.nbcwpshield.com/news/national-international/reports-of-plane-crash-in-calabasas-area-authorities-responding/">died in a helicopter crash</a> on Jan. 26, 2020. He was 41. Bryant retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history and held that spot until LeBron James overtook him Saturday night.
Tommaso Boddi/WireImage
<strong>Terry Jones – Co-founder of the Monty Python comedy troupe</strong><br><br>Jones, one of the founding members of the Monty Python’s Flying Circus comedy troupe, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://uat.nbcwpshield.com/entertainment/entertainment-news/monty-python-star-terry-jones-dies-at-77/" target="_blank">died at 77</a> after “a long, extremely brave but always good humored battle” with frontotemporal dementia. Jones formed the iconic British comedy troupe with Eric Idle, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman and Terry Gilliam in 1969.
Getty Images
<strong>Don Larsen – New York Yankees Pitcher</strong><br><br>Don Larsen as seen in this 1956 portrait, which was the year he made baseball history. The Yankees pitcher <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://uat.nbcwpshield.com/news/national-international/don-larsen-who-threw-only-perfect-world-series-game-dies-at-90" target="_blank">threw the first, and only, perfect world series game</a> at 27-years-old. Larsen died Jan. 1, 2020, at 90.
Noam Galai/Getty Images for Jazz At Lincoln Center
<strong>David Stern – Former NBA Commissioner</strong><br><br>Former NBA Commissioner David Stern seen in Lincoln Center on April 17, 2019, in New York. Stern, widely credited with the <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://news/sports/former-nba-commissioner-david-stern-dies-at-77/" target="_blank">emergence of the NBA as a global sports powerhouse</a>, died Jan. 1, 2020, after suffering a brain hemorrhage.

Relegated to private life, Dole became an elder statesman who helped Clinton get a chemical-weapons treaty passed. He also tended his wife’s political ambitions. Elizabeth Dole ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, then served a term as senator from North Carolina.

Dole also endeared himself to the public as the self-deprecating pitchman for the anti-impotence drug Viagra and other products.

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

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

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

He said: “It’s a pretty bitter pill for Trump, but it’s a fact he lost.”

Trump issued a statement Sunday praising Dole as “an American war hero and true patriot for our Nation” who represented “Kansas with honor and the Republican Party was made stronger by his service.”

In September 2017, Congress voted to award Dole its highest expression of appreciation for distinguished contributions to the nation, a Congressional Gold Medal. That came 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 the military service that earned him two Purple Hearts.

Robert Joseph Dole was born July 22, 1923, in Russell, a western Kansas farming and oil community. He was the eldest of four children. His father ran a cream and egg business and managed a grain elevator, and his mother sold sewing machines and vacuum cleaners to help support the family during the Depression. 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, as he was recovering from his war wounds in 1948. They were married and had a daughter, Robin. The couple would divorce in 1972.

Dole began his political career while 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 as transportation secretary and labor secretary while Dole was in the Senate. They married in 1975.

Dole published a memoir about his wartime experiences and recovery, “One Soldier’s Story,” in 2005. The Dole Institute of Politics on the University of Kansas keeps an archive of World War II veterans from Kansas.


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

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