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Dole, Baker toasted for embracing bipartisan politics

By Stacey Samuel, CNN
updated 6:07 AM EDT, Thu March 22, 2012

Washington (CNN) -- When expectations of a bipartisan Congress seem like a bygone tradition, two men who embodied leadership often beyond party politics were honored in Washington for their combined century of service.

Senators Bob Dole and Howard Baker served in Congress for nearly 100 years between them.

Lawmakers feted them Wednesday night at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.

The celebration was organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center, co-founded by Dole and Baker.

While both once shaped the philosophy of the Republican party, they now watch recent radical changes from the sidelines. Also bearing witness to the change in partisan politics were fellow Congressional colleagues.

"Tonight we are here to honor two distinct, different Republicans," said former Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle, "And no, I'm not talking about Mitt Romney, I'm talking about two great men in every sense of the word."

Among the distinguished line-up toasting the two elder statesmen, was Vice President Joe Biden, whose praise was peppered with what could pass for campaign trail fodder.

"The first speech Bob made," said Biden, referencing Dole's start in the Senate in 1969. "It was about disabled American veterans. He championed their cause and the ultimate result was the Americans with Disabilities Act. Forty three million Americans were granted the dignity they deserved."

Also in the audience were two members of the current Cabinet: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who like many in the auditorium represented both sides of the political aisle.

But the political pink elephant in the room is the stark contrast by which legislation is conducted --and stymied—in the 112th Congress.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky acknowledged the division in the Congressional family.

"It might look like dysfunction from the outside, but it's our dysfunction," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he and McConnell are friends and defended the difficulties in legislating.

"We need more bipartisan cooperation and less competition, and we're working on that in our own way," he said.

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