WASHINGTON — Beneath the dome of the Capitol he loved, Bob Dole was celebrated on Thursday for wit and grace, principle and persistence, but above all for civility and bipartisanship, in a subtle rebuke to a Republican Party that has changed much since Mr. Dole was its standard-bearer.
Addressing dignitaries of both parties gathered to honor the son of the Kansas Dust Bowl and a former Senate majority leader, President Biden used Mr. Dole’s own words as a pointed message to adversaries whom he sees as drifting from the moorings of democracy itself.
“I cannot pretend that I have not been a loyal champion of my party, but I always served my country best when I did so first and foremost as an American,” Mr. Biden said, quoting what he said were Mr. Dole’s final words to the nation. “When we prioritize principles over party and humanity over personal legacy — when we do that, we accomplish far more as a nation. By leading with shared faith in each other, we become America at its best.”
Mr. Dole, who died on Sunday at 98, became only the 30th known man to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, its entryways draped in black bunting, his coffin set upon the catafalque built in 1865 to hold the coffin of Abraham Lincoln. One woman, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has lain in state in the Capitol, but her coffin was placed in National Statuary Hall, adjacent to the Rotunda.
President Biden speaks in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington on Thursday.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times
In a short ceremony, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was the only Republican to eulogize Mr. Dole, whom he eclipsed in 2018 as the longest-serving Senate Republican leader. Mr. McConnell honored the man who had been grievously wounded in the Italian campaign during World War II as the last of the “greatest generation” to run for president, in 1996.
“Bob was blessed with long life to watch his legacy take effect,” Mr. McConnell said.
The Democrats who spoke — Mr. Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the current majority leader — all extolled virtues in Mr. Dole that they implied were lacking in his successors.
Mr. Schumer called him “a principled, pragmatic Kansan” who “never hesitated to work with Democrats.” Ms. Pelosi also spoke of principle, as well as patriotism.
But it was the president who used the moment to appeal to the gathering — and the country at large — to rediscover what Americans hold in common.
“The truth of the matter is, as divided as we are, the only way forward for democracy is unity, consensus — the only way,” Mr. Biden said. “May we follow his wisdom and his timeless truth and reach consensus on the basic fundamental principles we all agree on.”
Thursday morning at the Capitol seemed to recall a less bitter time, in honor of a man who himself spoke to a more perfect union. Not long after Mr. Dole began his presidential campaign, his opponent, Bill Clinton, was impeached amid extraordinary ill will. As Mr. Dole was leaving the Senate in 1996 to assume the mantle of his party’s nominee, he famously took a call from Mr. Clinton, spoke warmly to him and concluded, “I want to just thank you for all the times we’ve been able to work together.”
Just months after Mr. Clinton defeated Mr. Dole, the president awarded his vanquished opponent the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Upon receiving this medal, Senator Dole challenged us, in his words, ‘not to question American ideals or replace them, but to act worthy of them,’” Ms. Pelosi said.
Mr. McConnell recalled a particularly acerbic quote that Mr. Dole had for the conservative “revolutionaries” who helped the Republicans win majorities in both houses of Congress in 1994; the new majority leader said that if he had known Republicans would win the majority, he would have recruited better candidates. The anecdote may have been a dig by Mr. McConnell at his own right flank, which has been working against his efforts to keep the government from defaulting on its debt in the coming weeks.
Before the ceremony, the building was buzzing with friendly joshing. Lloyd J. Austin III, the secretary of defense, chatted with Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader. Pat Roberts, a former Republican senator, joined a reunion of fellow Kansans in bidding goodbye to the man from Russell, Kan.
And in the spirit of bipartisanship that was being celebrated — or mourned — two former Senate majority leaders, Tom Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, and Trent Lott, a Republican from Mississippi, met in Mr. McConnell’s office and walked together to the Capitol’s rotunda.
The ceremony, in all its solemnity, was known well to Mr. Dole. In one of his last public appearances, he rose from his wheelchair in 2018 to pay his respects to former President George H.W. Bush as he lay in state under the dome, in the geographic center of the nation’s capital. Nine years ago this month, another senator, Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, also lay in state and received a send-off from Mr. Dole, a lifelong friend with whom Mr. Inouye had convalesced in a Battle Creek, Mich., military hospital recovering from life-changing war wounds.
As Mr. McConnell noted, Mr. Dole had lived long enough to see politics — and his party — change. Just weeks before Mr. Inouye’s death in 2012, Mr. Dole sat slightly slumped in his wheelchair on the Senate floor and accepted the well-wishes of senators he was imploring to vote for a United Nations treaty that would ban discrimination against people with disabilities. He reasoned with them that the United States was already in compliance, and that he merely wanted the rest of the world to recognize the advances that he and other Americans with disabilities already enjoyed.
Then, after Mr. Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, rolled him off the floor, Republicans voted down the treaty that the ailing Mr. Dole so longed to see passed — but that they insisted would infringe on American sovereignty.