Bob Dole, WWII hero and veteran US lawmaker, dies at 98

The former Senate majority leader and 1996 Republican presidental candidate had been suffering from lung cancer; relations with Israel had ups and downs

Political icon and 1996 Republican presidential nominee then-senator Bob Dole is seen at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster/File)
Political icon and 1996 Republican presidential nominee then-senator Bob Dole is seen at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster/File)

TOPEKA (AP) — 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, posted the announcement Sunday on Twitter. “It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep,” the Elizabeth Dole Foundation tweeted.

“At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years.”

Dole announced in February 2021 that he had 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 US Senate, combining a talent for compromise with a caustic wit, which he often turned on himself but did not hesitate to turn on others, too.

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.

Dole’s relationship with Israel was strained at times, as he flirted with an anti-Israel agenda in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Some posited that this was tied to his frustration with the lack of Jewish support during his bids for the Republican nomination for president.

In 1990 Dole advocated a 5 percent cut in Israel’s $3 billion package. Under fire for his proposal, Dole at the time labeled Israeli opposition to the move as “selfishness.”

Dole also blamed Israel for the killing of a US intelligence officer by Arab terrorists in Lebanon, who said they did it in retaliation for Israeli commandos kidnapping a Muslim cleric. Dole argued on the Senate floor that “perhaps a little more responsibility on the part of the Israelis would be refreshing.”

He later reversed course, leading a campaign in the 1990s to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (a move that eventually happened in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump) and being generally supportive of the Jewish state.

Bob Dole and his wife Elizabeth wave from the podium on the floor of the Republican National Convention in San Diego, on August 16, 1996. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Dole was first elected to the US Senate in 1968 and was re-elected in 1974, 1980, 1986 and 1992, serving both as Senate majority and minority leader over the years.

In 1976, Dole was tapped by Gerald Ford to be his vice-presidential candidate, but the Republican ticket lost to Democrats Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.

Twenty years later, Dole lost the White House race to Democrat Bill Clinton, making him the only person to lose both the presidential and vice-presidential elections on a major party ticket.

He tried three times to become president. The last was in 1996, when he won the Republican nomination, only to see President Clinton reelected. He also sought his party’s presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988.

A conservative Republican who campaigned for reining in government, Dole also had a pragmatic streak and sponsored bipartisan legislation during his 35 years in Congress.

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 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 had 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.”

Then-presidential hopeful Sen. Bob Dole speaks to supporter’s in LeMars, IA, on February 10, 1996. (AP Photo/Dave Weaver, File)

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.

Tributes poured in swiftly for the veteran US politician, including from former vice president Mike Pence, who paid respect to a “truly great man who lived an extraordinary life of service.”

“He will be deeply missed by all of us who had the privilege to know him.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered flags at the US Capitol to be flown at half-staff in Dole’s honor, her chief of staff announced.

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