WASHINGTON-Ronald Reagan again has a presence on Capitol Hill.
A bipartisan coalition of legislators and sponsors helped Nancy Reagan unveil a new statue of her husband, the 40th president, in the Capitol Rotunda Wednesday. In a formal tribute to the late former president, multiple speakers honored Reagan's presidential legacy in the hall that is described as the most hollowed ground of American Democracy.
"If anyone belongs in this National Statuary Hall, it is Ronald Wilson Reagan," said former Reagan Chief of Staff James A. Baker to the more than 1,000 invited guests and dignitaries. The event featured color guard representatives from each military branch and a soaring U.S. Army Chorus rendition of "America the Beautiful" under the vaulted dome.
Senate and House leaders praised Reagan for his vision of America as a "City on Hill" and a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Reagan "one of the giants of the 20th century."
From the other side of the aisle, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid noted that Reagan was the only president to take the oath of office in the Rotunda. He said Reagan's characteristic confidence warmed and reassured America.
The audience grew silent as Nancy Reagan pulled a cloth off the statue, exposing a bronze Ronald Reagan in a business suit, with his shoulders squared back, arms by his side, looking out across the center of the Rotunda. Sculpture artist Chas Fagan from North Carolina said he sought to capture Reagan's sparkling eyes and joyful expression just before he would break into a warm smile.
The former first lady said her husband, "Ronnie," would be proud of the likeness. Tears came to her eyes when she said, "The last time I was in this room was for Ronnie's funeral service, so it's nice to be back under happier circumstance." Then she concluded by saying, "That's it," and stepped away from the microphone. As she exited past her late husband's statue, she turned and waved farewell.
Baker said the ceremony to honor Reagan was also to honor the Nancy Reagan, who had provided a quiet shelter for the world leader.
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, held up a piece of the Berlin Wall and commended Reagan for his leadership during the difficult Cold War era. The statue contains within it a chunk of the Berlin Wall to honor that leadership.
Each state is allowed to send two statues to the Capitol. California removed its statue of Rev. Thomas Starr King so they could offer one of Reagan. The statue joins those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others in the Rotunda, and for now, Reagan stands just across a doorway from Dwight Eisenhower, gazing across at Abraham Lincoln.