President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, lawmakers, and officials heaped praise on former Sen. Bob Dole on Wednesday as he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in a Capitol Hill ceremony.
"Bob Dole has never stopped fighting for those who fight for us; he is as honorable as they come," House Speaker Paul Ryan said of the 94-year-old who has a lengthy political resume.
"Sen. Dole, because of you, America is much better. On behalf of Congress and all Americans, thank you and God bless."
Dole sat in a wheelchair next to Trump and Pence, just behind a lectern where speakers took turns sharing stories about Dole and how he has touched their lives over the years.
"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. "They will hear the story of Bob Dole and in hearing that story, they will truly learn what it means to be a great American."
Trump later tweeted about Dole's honor:
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he is "blessed" to have served with Dole despite their political differences.
"You're honoring a true, a true American patriot," said Leahy, who added he and his wife attended Dole's wedding reception in 1975. "As a leader, you were a catalyst, a straight talker. He had one of the best senses of humor of any senator I've served with."
Dole's political resume includes serving in the Kansas House of Representatives from 1950-1952, the House from 1961-1969, the Senate from 1969-1996, leading the Republican National Committee from 1971-1973, serving as Senate Majority Leader from 1985-1987 and 1995-1996, and Senate Minority Leader from 1987-1995.
Dole was the Republican presidential nominee for the 1996 election and lost to Bill Clinton. He also ran for president in 1980 and 1988.
Many of the speakers during Wednesday's ceremony mentioned Dole's military service during World War II, which resulted in him receiving serious wounds to his back and right arm. He has never been able to raise his right arm since. During public appearances, he would often hold a pen in his right hand.
"Because of how faithfully he fulfilled that first oath, Bob Dole could no longer raise his right hand," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. "But he wasn't done serving his country. So he walked into the statehouse [in 1950], raised his left hand, and began the next chapter in a life filled with patriotic sacrifice and public service."
Said Pence, "Bob Dole has spent a lifetime serving this country with courage and conviction. [Wednesday] we heard stories from those that have known and worked with Sen. Dole throughout his life. . . . At every stage of his life, Bob epitomized the greatest generation."
After he was officially awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, Dole thanked everyone for attending the event.
"I want to thank all of those that have said such kind words about me. They're probably not true, but they were nice," Dole quipped.
Dole closed his brief remarks by jokingly speaking in House decorum.
"Mr. Speaker, I yield the balance of my time to this distinguished gentlewoman from North Carolina," Dole said, referencing his wife Elizabeth of more than 51 years.
George Washington, the nation's first president, was the first recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal. Dole is the 167th person to receive the award.
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