Tearful Dole calls it quits in the Senate
Wednesday 12 June 1996
For a day drenched in history, it started normally enough, with Mr Dole the Republican Majority leader rising at 9.45am to speak about an amendment to trade legislation and a bill consolidating Medicare funding.
But just after noon, he rose to speak again. And when he finished this time, he truly had become just Citizen Dole, "with nowhere to go but the White House, or home".
"I want to thank all my colleagues ... " he began, only to stop abruptly, choking, as he stood for the last time at the Majority leader's desk. But quickly he gathered himself, paying tribute to family, friends and staff, quoting Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower, those Republican presidents from the Midwest he hopes to emulate.
Mr Dole's week of leave-taking here has had its hiccups, not least a defective sound system at the annual Senate-House Republican dinner on Monday, which turned some scheduled entertainment from Congressman Sonny Bono (he of Sonny and Cher fame) into an ordeal that had the audience fleeing for the exits.
Yesterday was different though - a morning in the finest gentleman's club in Washington, where everyone knew exactly how to behave. For two hours the tributes flowed from Republicans and Democrats alike, praising him for his courage, wit, grace under pressure and legislative skills.
It was the Senate at its most typical: unctuous, pompous and utterly forgiving, hiding partisanship beneath old-world manners. "He will cast a long shadow as he goes," pronounced Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a Democratic Majority leader and himself one of Capitol Hill's most venerable monuments.
In reply, Mr Dole lapsed into that familiar fractured syntax to describe the institution he has served for 27 years.
"I've had a great life, a few bumps along the way ... A lot of different views here, like America, that's what America's all about. We are the envy of the world, we've lit liberty's torch here, that's what America's all about, a beacon of hope ... Our best tomorrows are yet to come," he said.
Thus ends a Congressional career of 35 years, including a record 11 years as Republican leader in the Senate, and no less than 12,781 roll-call votes (the electronic era has yet to reach the floor of the Senate), which if they took place consecutively would last day and night for four- and-a-half months.
But "to everything there is a season", Mr Dole said, "and my season in the Senate is about to come to an end. However, this is far less the closing of one chapter than the opening of another."
When he finished, his colleagues gathered around him, applauding for a full 10 minutes until he left the chamber for ever. Sheila Frahm was sworn in as his successor.
Now the last and toughest battle begins. "Ad Astra Per Aspera," reads the Kansas state motto, "To the Stars Through Hard Times," and it could have been written for him. No Majority leader has, and only two sitting Senators - Warren Harding and John F. Kennedy - have been elected president this century, which is why Mr Dole yesterday called it quits.
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