Bob Dole, the longest-serving Republican leader in the Senate, received the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday.
"I want to thank all of those who said such kind words about me, they probably weren't true but they were nice,” Dole joked. “I am extremely honored to accept this great honor and I thank you for presenting it to me."
The award recognized Dole’s decades of service as a soldier, lawmaker and statesman.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took part in the event. President Trump also spoke on Dole’s political legacy.
Dole, who first represented Kansas in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate, has a long-spanning career that goes beyond his 35 years in Congress. Known for his sense of humor, he also landed a spot on the Daily Show as a commentator during the 2000 presidential election.
“I remember his career as one of being a gentleman, supportive of the military and causes championing democracy. He has an honorable record and it must be extremely satisfying for him to have his old chamber recognize his career of service in this way,” Dakota Wood, a senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., told Fox News.
Here’s what you need to know about former Sen. Bob Dole.
Who is Bob Dole?
Dole was born in Russell, Kansas, in July 1923. After surviving both the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, he attended the University of Kansas in the fall of 1941. But after just three semesters, he left to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II.
The 94-year-old is also an attorney and former Congressman who was elected to the House in 1960. He was later elected to the Senate in 1968, serving in that role until 1996.
Additionally, Dole was the chairman of the Republican National Committee in the early 1970s.
Before he was elected Senate majority leader and Finance Committee chairman in the early 1980s, former President Gerald Ford tapped Dole to be his vice presidential running mate in 1976. The duo lost to former President Jimmy Carter and his running mate, Walter Mondale.
After leaving the Senate, he faced off against former President Bill Clinton as the Republican Presidential nominee during the 1996 election. He lost with 159 electoral votes compared to Clinton’s 379.
His service during WWII
After graduating from officer school, Dole was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, according to the Robert J. Dole Institute for Politics at the University of Kansas, a nonpartisan institute at the University that’s more commonly known as the Dole Institute.
In the spring of 1945, Dole’s life and physical mobility would be changed forever when he was critically injured during a mission against German soldiers in Northern Italy. The goal of the mission, which Dole helped to lead, was to overtake a hill near the Apennine Mountains.
But the hill was located “across a mine-laden field covered by snipers in the hills above and machine gunners in a stone farmhouse on the right,” according to the Dole Institute. While crossing the field, Dole was hit by exploding shrapnel. He was permanently crippled as a result.
Dole has tried to hide his disability over the years, using shoulder pads in his T-shirts, suits and coats to hide his nearly-missing right shoulder, according to a New York Times article from 1996. In addition to his spinal injuries, Dole cannot use his right hand and his left hand is partially numb.
“If I rub my fingers together, it’s like rubbing sandpaper,” he recalled during the 1996 interview. “I’ve lost the sensory -- and that’s from the spinal injuries.”
For his service, Dole received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.
Some of his most notable work
Dole was a vital supporter of the American With Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law in 1990. The legislation protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination. The former senator also founded the Dole Foundation in the 1980s, a nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities to find work.
Advocating for those with disabilities was a “constant in his legislative agenda,” said Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas who has written extensively about Dole.
The ADA, which has had a large impact on architecture, access to services, among other things, is a “true landmark piece of legislation,” Loomis added.
Dole is also known for his work to end childhood famine.
Indeed, Dole and former Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., co-founded the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which helps to fight childhood hunger in poverty-stricken areas around the globe, among other things. The two lobbied Congress in 2002 to fund the program.
Prior to this, the two former senators worked together on the Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Need, a bipartisan panel that found ways to tackle malnutrition and hunger in the U.S. The Food Stamp Act of 1977 came from this panel, a piece of legislation that expanded and simplified the food stamp program.
But perhaps one of Dole’s most notable accomplishments came in 1983 during Ronald Reagan's presidency. Dole helped to save Social Security by leading a bipartisan effort to end a stalemate over the legislation, which was facing a financial crisis at the time.
“Social Security was in a crisis -- there was no question that it would not be fully funded,” Loomis said.
But fixing the monetary assistance program was a two part dilemma: A math problem as well as a political problem, Loomis said. Cutting back on recipients’ social security payments would have been “a terrible political problem for members of Congress,” Loomis said, adding: “In essence, they knew they needed a deal [to save Social Security].”
Cue Dole and other leaders from the House, Senate and Reagan administration who “all got together and came up with a deal that they were able to pass through both chambers,” Loomis said.
“Dole was central here and it reflects his desire to pass legislation and make a deal,” Loomis said, adding that helping to save Social Security also “exemplified what he did day in and day out as [Senate] Majority Leader, in the Finance Committee and during the rest his career.”
Again under former President Reagan, Dole, along with other key Congressman of the time such as former Senators Bob Packwood and Russell Long, along with former Rep. Jack Kemp and others, worked to finalize a “mammoth tax reform” package, said Loomis.
“Dole was right in the middle of that -- it was not a dissimilar operation [to Social Security]. Again, he recognized a deal could be made.”
And making deals across party lines is perhaps what Dole will be remembered for the most.
“I think as we get farther away from the Dole-era what becomes more and more evident is that he was a fierce partisan, a Republican leader. But here’s a guy who’s partisan but can walk across the aisle and make deals with other fierce partisans,” Loomis said.
In other words, Dole represents that “you can be a strong partisan and yet support the Congress as a whole and work with people with whom you have fundamental disagreements,” Loomis added.
Who has received the Congressional Gold Medal in the past?
When accepting the medal on Wednesday, Dole joined a long list of famous recipients.
Former President George Washington first received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1776. And former President Andrew Jackson was awarded the medal in 1815. Cornelius Vanderbilt, the American business tycoon, was also a recipient: He received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1864.
Other notable recipients include Thomas Edison, Charles Lindbergh, Robert Frost, Walt Disney, Robert F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, Rosa Parks, Ronald and Nancy Reagan. A full list of receipts can be found here.
“Since he was a man of the Congress, a legislator, I think getting this award from the Congress is extraordinarily important -- that’s who he was, he was someone who wanted to pass laws, legislate and support the congressional branch of government, which he did admirably,” Loomis said.
“In that sense, to be rewarded by your peers with this award is especially significant.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.