JUNE 11, 1996
Senator Bob Dole officially ended his 27-year Senate career on Tuesday in an emotional tribute at the Capitol. The Senator decided to step down last month to run full-time as the Republican Presidential nominee. Following Kwame Holman's report on the day's proceedings, Senators William Cohen (R-ME) and Bill Bradley (D-NJ) reflect on the career of Bob Dole as a U.S. Senator and as the longest serving leader of the Senate Republicans.
June 11: Kwame Holman reports on Bob Dole's final day as a U.S. Senator
June 11: Text of Dole's farewell speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate
May 16: Shields & Gigot examine Dole's announcement that he intends to leave the Senate
April 17: Bob Dole discusses the coming campaign with Jim Lehrer in a Newsmaker interview
Look here for the NewsHours' special general election page
JIM LEHRER: Now some thoughts about Bob Dole's life as a Senator and as a Senate leader. They come from two Senators who are also retiring this year, Republican Bill Cohen of Maine, and Democrat Bill Bradley of New Jersey. Senator Cohen, what was it like on the floor of the Senate today, there this morning, while this was going on?
SEN. WILLIAM COHEN, (R) Maine: Well, it was one of the most historic moments I think I've experienced in nearly 24 years of being in both the House and the Senate. I can't recall ever being present at a, at a session in which there was such an overwhelming feeling of, of love and admiration for a, a Senator or a Congressman.
He, I think in his final remarks really brought forth the Bob Dole that people on both sides of the aisle, Democrat and Republican, have come to admire over the years, and so it was very emotional at times. I think we were sort of betting how long would it take for Bob Dole to break, and he had a little bit of a rocky start, but as your piece indicated, he told a few jokes and got himself going, but it was very emotional, I think, a memorable event for me.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Bradley.
SEN. BILL BRADLEY, (D) New Jersey: Well, I was struck by his generosity and the fact that he reached out to people on both sides of the aisle, that he spoke to who I think he really is. He spoke from the reservoir of the self-knowledge. I found it a very moving time, and he did break it a couple of times with wit, which is, of course, the way he's always been.
JIM LEHRER: Well, when both of you say the Senator, the real Senator Dole, the ones that--the one that you knew, describe that Senator Dole, Sen. Cohen.
SEN. COHEN: Well, the one that I have come to know over the years is a truly warm and a generous individual, as Bill Bradley has talked about. He has a generosity of spirit that many people never see.
JIM LEHRER: Why did we not see it?
SEN. COHEN: Well, I think because we are portrayed almost immediately by the press, we are painted into a corner, so to speak. We wear labels, one is liberal or conservative or moderate. And Bob Dole has had the image, I think, over the years that he is somehow either dark or mean-spirited, and it's an image that doesn't fit the character because the character that we know is a generous and loving person. Someone who has suffered tremendous hardship and overcome that hardship, who identifies with the under-dog, the handicapped, the under-privileged, and you really never get to see much of that. He covers a lot of it up with a wit that in the past seemed a bit too sharp for some people but in more recent years he has turned toward himself, and I think you saw really a glimpse of the best of Bob Dole today, and that's the Bob Dole that everyone turned out to see.
We had as many Democrats on the floor as Republicans, not quite, since they have a slight deficiency on the Democratic side in numbers, but virtually every seat was filled. They were there to pay tribute to the man that they have worked with over the years and someone that they know as someone who believes that government needs to work, that he's willing to reach across, as Bill Bradley just said, to work with Democrats and to drop the partisan rhetoric, and to produce something on behalf of the American people. So that's the Dole you saw today. That's the real one.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Bradley, much has been said about the fact that he was not an ideologue, he did not go to the Senate floor every day with his own agenda, his own ideology. Was that your experience with him as well?
SEN. BRADLEY: Absolutely. I mean, the Senate does not reward extremes. Power in the Senate is in the center, and Bob Dole knew how to use power because he understood how to make things happen in the center of this institution. And that is ultimately built on a couple of personal facts. I mean, he always kept his word. He listened very carefully. He never held a grudge.
JIM LEHRER: Did he listen to Democrats? Did he listen to you Democrats?
SEN. BRADLEY: He listened to us from time to time. Obviously, he's going to listen more to Republicans--
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
SEN. BRADLEY: --than to Democrats. But, you know, as an adversary, I didn't agree with him on many things, but I always respected him, and I always knew that when he told me something, that you could count on it.
JIM LEHRER: You said in your recent book, Sen. Bradley, that being the Senate Majority Leader now is more like being an air traffic controller than it is being a real leader. What did you mean by that?
SEN. BRADLEY: Well, I mean that the Senate has changed over the years, and you have to arrange everything by unanimous consent agreements. You frequently have more--Senators who are less willing to give those agreements, so it's a constant negotiation process. That is tiring for many people. I think Sen. Dole handled it effectively and he, he was able to do it quite well.
JIM LEHRER: But he did not, Sen. Cohen, have a kind of a Dole philosophy that drove him? I mean, did he ever come to you and say, Bill Cohen, I need you on this, this is something that matters to me, personally, I believe in this very strongly, et cetera?
SEN. COHEN: Well, no, as a matter of fact he did. On a number of occasions he would come to me and say, I really want this to pass, I need you to help me, and will you help me. To his credit, Bob Dole never tried to break arms or twist them to the point where he would produce some lasting resentment. He would gently say, this really is important to me, and I need it. But that's the extent to which he would go. Some might criticize that, but that's the reason why again the reverence for Bob Dole as an individual and how he conducted himself and how he worked with Democrats to produce a compromise and a consensus.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Bradley, it's also said, you know, he was a great legislator. Is that a compliment?
SEN. BRADLEY: Well, I think it is. That's what I am. (laughing) I don't know if I'm a great legislator.
JIM LEHRER: Wait a minute.
SEN. BRADLEY: But that's my profession, sure.
JIM LEHRER: I hear you.
SEN. BRADLEY: I mean, by that, you mean he knows how to pass laws in a body of disparate personalities representing a country as diverse and large as the United States. Where geographic, ideological, partisan differences could produce gridlock in a body where the minority always controls. I mean, if you're on the extreme, you're not going to get anything done in the Senate, and I think Sen. Dole understood that and that's why he was able to get things done.
JIM LEHRER: And yet, Sen. Cohen, some people have speculated and one of the reasons he decided to leave the Senate to run full-time for President was that being a member of the legislature--being a legislator, even in the United States Senate, the great deliberative body, is not really good politics right now.
SEN. COHEN: Well, it's difficult. He is the first Majority Leader ever to be nominated to run for the Presidency of the United States. And obviously, the goodwill that you saw exhibited today did not extend beyond the partisan lines that divide us, namely that the Democratic minority was not about to have Bob Dole use the position of Majority Leader to wage an effective campaign against President Clinton.
And so it became clear that there were a number of whether you call them sand traps or fox holes or other types of snaring devices, they were out to make sure that Bob Dole could not be as effective as he's been over the years because otherwise it would be aiding Bob Dole in the quest for the Presidency. So it became imperative for him to step down or step aside, and he felt that he might be criticized for stepping aside, missing votes, being out on the campaign trail trying to wage the battle, and he came to the conclusion that the best thing for him to do was to go out there and campaign full-time and to turn responsibilities over to his successors.
JIM LEHRER: Do you--
SEN. COHEN: I agree with the decision. I think it was the right thing for him to do.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Bradley, do you agree with that analysis by Sen. Cohen?
SEN. BRADLEY: Well, more or less. I mean, I think it's worthy to note that in the 20th century only two sitting U.S. Senators have ever been elected President. Everybody knows John Kennedy. Most people have forgotten Warren Harding. That's in part because of schedule, it's in part because of what it takes to be an effective Senator. Process more than direction, moving things forward isn't always what it takes to win a Presidential campaign. I think Sen. Dole saw a need to free himself of some of these responsibilities so he could concentrate more on what he's attempting to do.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Cohen, is there anything that you'd look back on and say, hey, if Bob Dole had not been here, this would not have happened? Is there a "this" that you could fill in the blank?
SEN. COHEN: I think you could take virtually every major piece of legislation and say, but for Bob Dole this would not have happened, whether it's the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Voter Rights Extension for 25 years. You name the issue, and but for Bob Dole, I think you would have had a, a great deal more partisanship, a great deal more angry rhetoric exchanging across the aisles, being exchanged across the aisles.
I think that his genius really was to hold back and not to take as prominent a role, to allow the exchange of viewpoints, and then when it came down to a time to really striking the deal, so to speak, of arriving at an appropriate compromise, as he mentioned this morning, getting 90 percent is a pretty good victory, and he hopes to get the next 10 percent in the following years as such, and I think that was his genius. But you can point to every major piece of legislation that we have talked about over the years, Bob Dole's hand is there, and but for his hand being there, I doubt very much whether you'd see it.
JIM LEHRER: Do you have a "but for" list, Sen. Bradley?
SEN. BRADLEY: I sure do. I'd put at the top of that the Voting Rights Extension in 1982, I think it was, any tax bill the last 15 years has been a Dole bill, even tax reform in 1986--
JIM LEHRER: These were not bills that he originated, but these were bills that he got enacted, is that what you're suggesting?
SEN. BRADLEY: Yeah. That he got enacted, absolutely. No, these were not ones he proposed. I think that certainly the 1982 bill that closed a lot of loopholes was clearly his bill. I think that the Tax Reform Act of 1986 happened in large part when he was the Majority Leader because he was pushing for it, as well as having strong support from the Finance Committee. I think that he said today, summarized his idea of leadership by saying it's a matter of, of background and backbone, and I think that is what typifies him as a public servant.
JIM LEHRER: Well, gentlemen, we'll leave it there. Thank you both very much.