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Presidents Bush, Obama and more remember Bob Dole in emotional tributes

Politicians including Presidents Joe Biden and former Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama honored Bob Dole after his death Sunday at the age of 98.
/ Source: TODAY

After Bob Dole died Sunday morning at the age of 98, politicians and all of the living former presidents from both parties remembered him as a lawmaker, war hero and generous friend.

Dole served in Congress for decades after recovering from severe injuries in World War II. He was the Republican presidential candidate in 1996 and earned a Congressional Gold Medal in 2018. Dole championed causes such as reforming the federal food stamp program and raising awareness of disabilities.

Dole's family honored him in an emotional statement that was shared with TODAY.

"Thank you for the outpouring of love over the last year, it continues to sustain us as we grieve the loss of the precious man we knew as husband and father," the Dole family said. "Bob Dole was never only ours – we shared him with Americans from every walk of life and every political persuasion. He dedicated his life to serving you, and so it is heartwarming that so many honor him at his passing."

"America has lost one of its heroes; our family has lost its rock," continued the statement. "We will smile as we recall his gifted sense of humor. We will take comfort from the extraordinary moments of our lifetimes together."

Former Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter also honored Dole with statements released following his death.

"Bob Dole was an American war hero and true patriot for our nation," Trump said. "He served the great state of Kansas with honor and the Republican Party was made stronger by his service. Our nation mourns his passing, and our prayers are with Elizabeth and his wonderful family."

“Laura and I are saddened by the passing of a great patriot, Senator Bob Dole," Bush said. "This good man represented the finest of American values. He defended them in uniform during World War II. He advanced them in the United States Senate. And he lived them out as a father, husband, and friend. Our entire family benefited from that friendship, including my father. I will always remember Bob’s salute to my late dad at the Capitol, and now we Bushes salute Bob and give thanks for his life of principled service. Laura and I send our heartfelt condolences to Elizabeth and join our fellow citizens in prayer for her comfort.”

Clinton, who defeated Dole in the 1996 presidential election, remembered Dole for his service.

"Bob Dole dedicated his entire life to serving the American people, from his heroism in World War II to the 35 years he spent in Congress," Clinton tweeted on Sunday. "After all he gave in the war, he didn’t have to give more. But he did. His example should inspire people today and for generations to come."

Obama said he got to know Dole well during his own presidency.

"Michelle and I were saddened today to hear about the passing of Senator Bob Dole," he wrote. "Senator Dole and I differed on policy, and I didn’t serve with him in the Senate. But I did get to know him over the years, and for that I will always be grateful.

"Senator Dole was a war hero, a political leader, and a statesman – with a career and demeanor hearkening back to a day when members of the Greatest Generation abided by a certain code, putting country over party. His sharp wit was matched only by his integrity, and he lived his life in a way that made it clear just how proud he was to be an American, and how committed he was to making this country everything he knew it could be. Our thoughts are with Elizabeth — who has lived her own remarkable life of service — and all those who knew and loved a true American hero."

Carter, who defeated a ticket of Gerald Ford and Dole to win the 1976 presidential election, also sent his condolences.

"Rosalynn and I are deeply saddened to learn of the death of former Sen. Robert Dole," he wrote in a statement. "A true leader, Bob was willing to work across political parties to make progress on important issues. He showed that our differences need not divide us, but can foster effective answers to our nation's most difficult problems. His unrelenting efforts enriched the lives of countless people in need, including military personnel, veterans and their caregivers. We extend our condolences to his wife, Elizabeth, their family, and friends."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi released a statement remembering Dole as "a towering leader who embodied courage," and U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called him "a bona fide American hero" in a statement.

The politician is survived by his second wife, Elizabeth Dole, and his daughter Robin Dole, who he shares with first wife Phyllis Holden. Holden passed away in 2008.

The family took a moment to acknowledge Dole's path from his humble beginnings in Kansas to becoming one of the leading voices of the Republican Party.

"Bob Dole never forgot where he came from. He embodied the integrity, humor, compassion and unbounded work ethic of the wide open plains of his youth," said the statement. "He was a powerful voice for pragmatic conservatism, and it was that unique Kansan combination of attributes and values that made him such a giant of the Senate."

Dole's family ended their statement by saying that their grief was "softened" by their "gratitude for having shared in so vibrant a life."

"May God receive His son home with love and the most important phrase of all time, “Well done, good and faithful servant," wrote the family.

After Dole's death was announced, other notable statements poured in from figures including President Joe Biden and TODAY's Savannah Guthrie.

Biden issued a statement calling Dole and his wife "great friends" who he and his wife Jill Biden had been close to for over a century. Biden said that shortly after being sworn in as president, he spoke with Dole, who had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer.

"I was there to offer the same support, love, and encouragement that they showed me and Jill when our son Beau battled cancer ... Like all true friendships, regardless of how much time has passed, we picked up right where we left off, as though it were only yesterday that we were sharing a laugh in the Senate dining room or debating the great issues of the day, often against each other, on the Senate floor," Biden wrote in a statement obtained by TODAY.

"This work, for Bob, was about more than passing laws. It was written on his heart. Bob was an American statesman like few in our history. A war hero and among the greatest of the Greatest Generation. And to me, he was also a friend whom I could look to for trusted guidance, or a humorous line at just the right moment to settle frayed nerves," the Biden statement continued. "I will miss my friend."

In a Twitter thread, former Vice President Mike Pence called Dole a "truly great man who lived an extraordinary life of service to America."

TODAY's Savannah Guthrie, who interviewed Dole on several occasions, posted a sweet message alongside a photo of Dole and his wife.

"In loving memory of Senator Bob Dole," Guthrie wrote. "My heart mourns the loss of this good and great man. But my spirit rejoices that he is now at home in eternal peace. I am filled with gratitude for the privilege of knowing him."

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy called Dole a "giant of the Senate" and said that Dole featured in some of his fondest memories.

Mitt Romney, a former presidential candidate and Republican senator, said in a tweet that he and his wife would be praying for Dole's family.

Cindy McCain, widow of the late Sen. John McCain, wrote on Instagram that there "are few Americans" she and her husband "admired more than" Dole, praising his dignity and decades of service.

In an earlier statement, Dole's family said that "details about memorial events" would be shared at a later date.

According to a tweet from a spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flags at the U.S. Capitol will be flown at half-staff in Dole's honor.