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Former FDIC Chair Sheila Bair remembers mentor Bob Dole

Bob Dole passed away over the weekend, and one of the many people he mentored during his decades as a politician spoke with Yahoo Finance Live about his contributions.

Video transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Washington is mourning the loss of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. The former Republican presidential candidate died over the weekend at the age of 98. Many of you, of course, remember Bob Dole is a World War II veteran, who earned two purple hearts and bronze stars, but he was also instrumental in shaping policy around the Social Security program, and now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Let's bring in somebody who's quite familiar with the former senator, Sheila Bair. She's the former FDIC chair. And Sheila, it's good to talk to you today as we remember Bob Dole, particularly because you've got a direct connection. I mean, he really was the one that brought you into the fold in Washington. Talk to me about how you've been remembering him. What's kind of been going through your mind since you've heard the news over the weekend?

SHEILA BAIR: Yeah, well, I was fortunate to have seen him a few weeks ago for a nice long visit, which I treasure now because I didn't realize at the time it was going to be our last. But it was very meaningful to me. Yeah, I got my start under him. I learned politics and public policy making under him. I started in 1981. That was when the Reagan revolution came in and the Senate became Republican after some 40 years of being in the minority.

And, you know, people like Dole assumed leadership roles after being in-- having minority position status for so long. And, you know, he was a member of that greatest World War II generation. He put country first. He realized in public policy and doing the public good through legislating.

He was also-- he was a wheeler dealer, though. He knew how to put a package-- put compromises together. He knew how to build consensus, give a little here, take a little there, give other people credit, right, to get them to sign on. It was really just a wonder to be able to work with him for some time and observe his masterful legislative skills. He really was the consummate legislator in so many areas. He's had such a huge impact on federal policy.

AKIKO FUJITA: You said he was known for wheeling and dealing. I mean, he certainly used those skills in reshaping the Social Security program. In putting together a program here that was, you know, actually initially criticized by then-president Ronald Reagan as well, I mean, talk me through his thinking at the time when there were already concerns about whether, in fact, this program would have long lasting impact.

SHEILA BAIR: Right, yeah. Well, it did. It kept it solvent for many decades. It was a while back. It was 1983. But it was a combination of some modest tax increases on upper income Social Security recipients and some modest delays and the cost of living increase. So, right, the Democrats didn't want benefit cuts, and the Republicans didn't want tax increases. So they did a little bit of both and put a package together that kept the system solvent for quite some time. And so, it's really a good example of compromise and coming together and fixing a program that a lot of Americans depend on and continue to depend on.

I worry now that, you know, the system's getting into trouble again, obviously. And we have such extreme partisanship. And it's almost a bad thing to have compromise now, as opposed to a good thing, the way it was back then. So I do think members of Congress, as they deal with Social Security and all the other issues that confront the nation, realize that compromise is a good thing. Bringing the country together is a good thing. Building consensus is a good thing. And that's just what Bob Dole did so, so well.

AKIKO FUJITA: You said you had a chance to speak with him several weeks ago. Did you talk to him a bit about what's playing out in Washington? I wonder over the course of the last year, even, whether you had those conversations, how he viewed the political discourse in Washington right now. Because he did still support President Trump when he was president then, but certainly, it's a very different environment than when he served.

SHEILA BAIR: Yeah, well, it was. I mean, for better or worse-- I do not support President Trump, but he was the party's nominee. And Bob Dole was very loyal to his party. And so he did endorse him. And I think that is what it is. I just hope it doesn't taint the broad-- the decades of public service, where he did so much good for the nation.

You mentioned Social Security, but I mean, that's just one thing. Tax reform, making the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which really cleaned out a lot of loopholes. Civil rights-- he was a big advocate on civil rights, the Voting Rights Act extension, the Martin Luther King holiday. Disability rights-- you mentioned the food stamp program, now called SNAP. He was a compassionate conservative in the best sense of the word.

And he believed in the big tent. He talked a lot about the GOP being a big tent. And it pained him. He talked a lot about the underrepresentation of African-Americans in our party as something that bothered him throughout the time I knew him. It troubled him greatly and frustrated him greatly that the Republican Party couldn't make greater inroads.

So, you know, I just think I hope people look through the whole course of his career. He was a good friend to Joe Biden, too, and has said a lot of positive things about President Biden. They actually, back when I worked for him, the Judiciary Committee, Joe Biden was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee then and worked closely with Dole on the Voting Rights extension, which I also helped with as a as a Senate Judiciary Committee counsel. So, you know, he cares about the country. And he's going to support whoever was in office to try to make them be successful. And that was who he was until the very end.

AKIKO FUJITA: And we did hear President Biden reflect on that as well, saying that they had been friends for many years and that they were always able to pick up right where they left off, no matter how much time had passed. Sheila Bair, former FDIC chair, it's good to talk to you today. Really appreciate the time.

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