In a rare moment of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, a Kansas soldier and statesman on Wednesday received the nation's highest civilian honor.
"Mr. Speaker, I'm extremely honored to accept this great honor and I thank you for presenting it to me,” former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas said during the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the U.S. Capitol rotunda filled with Republican and Democratic politicians, dignitaries and several Kansans. "I want to thank my colleagues, for without them, nothing would have been accomplished."
President Donald Trump said Dole is a "true American hero" who embodies the Kansas motto, "To the stars through difficulty."
“A perfect description of Bob Dole’s extraordinary life,” Trump said. "He has never stopped earning his place in the pages of American history. You’ve meant so much for our country.”
"Bob Dole has spent a lifetime serving this country with courage and conviction,” Vice President Mike Pence said of Dole's service in the U.S. Army. "At every stage of his life, Bob optimized the greatest generation.”
John Pinegar, a Topeka lobbyist and Dole's longtime friend, said the ceremony he attended, along with several other Topekans, represented an "historic day" to honor "a man whose done not only a great deal for Kansas but also for the nation."
“His entire life he selflessly served our nation’s public and our national veterans," Pinegar said via phone from Washington, D.C. "Sen. Dole's career is a perfect example of what can be accomplished through the means of compromise and bipartisanship."
Two significant examples of Dole's willingness to reach across the political aisle, Pinegar said, were his work in creating the Americans with Disabilities Act and Social Security reform.
Others who made brief remarks about Dole and his years of military and legislative service included U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, and U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins also made remarks.
Roberts said he and Jenkins began working on getting the necessary 100 signatures from all the U.S. senators this past summer.
"Your leadership on so many laws that have improved the lives of all Americans — and the memorials forever etched in stone — will also remind America of you, the boy from Russell, Kan., and your enduring love of our country," he said.
Jenkins described Dole as a “soldier, a legislator and statesman.”
“I think the good senator is fond of saying, ‘You can take the boy out of Kansas but you can’t take the Kansas out of the boy,’ ” she said. “You have greatly impacted so many in this nation. May we all choose to live by your example.”
“Sen. Dole never stopped working to make his country a better place," added Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York. "What a legacy. He has earned our universal admiration.”
Pinegar said the Topekans who attended the medal ceremony included Gov. Sam Brownback; Washburn University president Jerry Farley and his wife, Susan; John Dicus, president and CEO of Capitol Federal, Topeka attorney John Frieden and longtime friends Doug and Kathleen Smith.
"I cannot imagine someone more deserving of a Congressional Gold Medal than Sen. Bob Dole," said Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. "As a public servant, veteran and statesman, his career has improved the lives of millions of Americans. As a proud Kansan, he has never forgotten his home state. We are so pleased to see him honored today and to carry on his legacy of principled leadership at the Dole Institute of Politics."
Jerry Farley, president of Washburn University, said that attending the ceremony in the Capitol rotunda was "amazing and overwhelming" given that those who run Washington, D.C., were in one place at the same time to honor Dole.
“The message that each one of them gave was unique," Farley said. "Many of them were humorous, many of them were inspiring comments. You could catch the emotion in their voices."