WASHINGTON — So what if the British burned the U.S. Capitol? That was way back during the War of 1812. A bust of Winston Churchill is headed there, 50 years after the legendary British statesman was granted honorary U.S. citizenship.
The bust was the idea of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), whose staff assures it grows out of his admiration of Churchill and has nothing to do with the kerfuffle over the removal of a Churchill bust from the Oval Office when President Obama moved into the White House.
That bust, lent to President George W. Bush by British Prime Minister Tony Blair after the 9/11 attacks, was returned to the British Embassy in a redecorating of the Oval Office. “Barack Obama has sent Sir Winston Churchill packing and pulse rates soaring among anxious British diplomats,” read the headline in a British paper, even though another Churchill bust has resided in the White House since the 1960s.
The bust coming to the Capitol, donated by the Chicago-based Churchill Centre, is due to be unveiled in a ceremony later this month.
The House voted to place a Churchill bust in the Capitol in 2011, shortly before the 70th anniversary of Churchill’s address to a joint meeting of Congress, delivered a few weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Churchill addressed Congress three times -- in 1941, 1943 and 1952 -- more than any other foreign dignitary.
Placing a bust of Churchill in the Capitol is a “fitting recognition of his service to the cause of freedom and his friendship to the United States,” Boehner recently said. The speaker has noted that the British have a statue of Abraham Lincoln in the park across from their Parliament.
Although the Capitol is full of statues of important -- and sometimes obscure -- figures in U.S. history, few foreigners are honored. A portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette, the first foreign dignitary to address a joint meeting of Congress in 1824, hangs to the left of the speaker’s rostrum in the House chamber.
President Kennedy signed a proclamation in April 1963 making Churchill, then 88, an honorary U.S. citizen.
Churchill died in 1965 at age 90.
According to the Churchill Centre, the work is a casting of a Churchill bust sculpted by Oscar Nemon. Copies of the bust can be found in the Churchill War Rooms in London and in the Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Moscow.
House officials have yet to say where the bust will be located. It could end up near the statue of Oklahoma humorist Will Rogers, whose visage faces the House, supposedly in keeping with his famous advice to “keep an eye on Congress.”