Generations after it boomed across a joint session of Congress on Dec. 26, 1941, to embolden a weary United States reeling from Pearl Harbor, Sir Winston Churchill’s voice once again echoed through the halls of Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon.
“As long as we have faith in our cause, and an unconquerable willpower, salvation will not be denied us,” rang his crisp British accent, in a decades-old recording that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, played for a packed house at the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.
The occasion, a dedication of a Churchill bust in the famed hall, was a rare show of bipartisan and trans-Atlantic pomp and circumstance, as diplomats, leaders – and even one of history’s legendary rock stars – bore tribute to one of 10 Downing Street’s most famed residents. Churchill was Britain’s prime minister during and after World War II.
Boehner, who called Churchill “the best friend the United States ever had,” was instrumental in adding Churchill’s likeness to the hall’s roster of esteemed historical figures. Boehner’s resolution, passed in December 2011, set aside space and resources for the bust.
It stands as a symbol, Boehner said, of one of history’s “true love stories, between a great statesman and a nation that he called the Great Republic.”
Outside the diplomatic symbolism, the bust’s new place on Capitol Hill is a reminder of a political catfight among the Obama White House, Mitt Romney and the British government in the heat of last year’s presidential campaign.
That dust-up began with a different bust: a small likeness of Churchill that had been given – or lent – to President George W. Bush in 2001 and sat in the Oval Office during his tenure. Sometime between Bush’s departure and President Barack Obama’s arrival, the bust was removed.
The missing statute went largely unnoticed stateside, until Obama’s then-challenger, Romney, busted what he called the White House’s insult to the United Kingdom.
"I’m looking forward to the bust of Winston Churchill being in the Oval Office again," Romney said last year at a London fundraising event, a jab at what pundits had called a worsening trans-Atlantic partnership between the nations due to a negligent attitude from the Obama administration. Romney’s remark touched a nerve in the White House and became a public relations mess between London and Washington. It ended with a White House apology.
On Wednesday, however, partisanship was absent. Officials urged Washington’s lawmakers to channel Churchill’s collaborative and cooperative spirit in all their endeavors, and Republicans and Democrats alike mouthed the words as The Who’s Roger Daltrey sang “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Said Secretary of State John Kerry: “With so many challenges all across the world today, struggles to be won, pandemics to be defeated, history yet to be defined, Churchill can be heard once again with this bust, asking all of us to define our time here not in shutdowns or showdowns, but in a manner befitting of a country that still stands, as he said then, at the pinnacle of power.”