White House: Hey, we never really removed that bust of Churchill

posted at 6:01 pm on July 27, 2012 by Allahpundit

This won’t get 1/1,000th the media play that Romney’s Olympics comments got in London, but in its own way it’s just as baffling. Why, oh why, would they engage on this subject, wholly unnecessarily, and get their facts wrong to boot? The claim from White House spokesflack Dan Pfeiffer:

Lately, there’s been a rumor swirling around about the current location of the bust of Winston Churchill. Some have claimed that President Obama removed the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and sent it back to the British Embassy…

This is 100% false. The bust still in the White House. In the Residence. Outside the Treaty Room.

News outlets have debunked this claim time and again. First, back in 2010 the National Journal reported that “the Churchill bust was relocated to a prominent spot in the residence to make room for Abraham Lincoln, a figure from whom the first African-American occupant of the Oval Office might well draw inspiration in difficult times.” And just in case anyone forgot, just last year the AP reported that President Obama “replaced the Oval Office fixture with a bust of one of his American heroes, President Abraham Lincoln, and moved the Churchill bust to the White House residence.”

He implies, without ever flatly stating, that the bust has been at the White House from day one and that the story about it being moved in 2009 was a big juicy nothingburger invented out of whole cloth to smear Obama as anti-British. Is that true? Why … no. Read RB’s post at the Right Sphere citing this passage from the Telegraph in 2009:

The bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds if it were ever sold on the open market, enjoyed pride of place in the Oval Office during President Bush’s tenure.

But when British officials offered to let Mr Obama to hang onto the bust for a further four years, the White House said: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Diplomats were at first reluctant to discuss the whereabouts of the Churchill bronze, after its ejection from the seat of American power. But the British Embassy in Washington has now confirmed that it sits in the palatial residence of ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald, just down the road from Vice President Joe Biden’s official residence. It is not clear whether the ambassador plans to keep it in Washington or send it back to London.

So they did give it back. Pfeiffer’s simply lying. But wait — the lies aren’t done yet. Jake Tapper called the embassy for more details. Drumroll:

Like a plot twist in a sitcom, IT TURNS OUT THERE ARE TWO CHURCHILL BUSTS!!!!!

The one in the White House Residence was a gift to the White House from the British Embassy during the Nixon administration.

The other one was loaned to President George W. Bush by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Says James Barbour, Press Secretary and Head of Communications for the British Embassy, “The bust of Sir Winston Churchill, by Sir Jacob Epstein, was lent to the George W Bush administration from the UK’s Government Art Collection, for the duration of the Presidency. When that administration came to an end so did the loan; the bust now resides in the British Ambassador’s Residence in Washington DC. The White House collection has its own Epstein bust of Churchill, which President Obama showed to Prime Minister Cameron when he visited the White House in March”

So the Krauthammer remark that inspired all of this — that O “started his Presidency by returning to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office” — turns out to be true. And the dumbest part is that Pfeiffer had a much better comeback available to him than the one he went with: Namely, if Obama is as anti-British as Krauthammer and Romney want people to believe, why did he keep the other bust of Churchill on display in the residence? Either Pfeiffer didn’t know what he was talking about when he wrote this post or he did know but wanted people to believe that the Mystery of the Bust was a lie concocted by the right to malign our poor, unfairly treated president. And then Tapper pantsed him, ruining his plan. Which do you suppose is the truth?

Update: Thanks to Tapper, Pfeiffer’s been forced to update his post:

Since my post on the fact that the bust of Winston Churchill has remained on display in the White House, despite assertions to the contrary, I have received a bunch of questions — so let me provide some additional info. The White House has had a bust of Winston Churchill since the 1960’s. At the start of the Bush administration Prime Minister Blair lent President Bush a bust that matched the one in the White House, which was being worked on at the time and was later returned to the residence. The version lent by Prime Minister Blair was displayed by President Bush until the end of his Presidency. On January 20, 2009 — Inauguration Day — all of the art lent specifically for President Bush’s Oval Office was removed by the curator’s office, as is common practice at the end of every presidency. The original Churchill bust remained on display in the residence. The idea put forward by Charles Krauthammer and others that President Obama returned the Churchill bust or refused to display the bust because of antipathy towards the British is completely false and an urban legend that continues to circulate to this day.

Finally, he settles on the stronger argument. But there’s a fudge here too: As noted in the old Telegraph piece quoted above, the British offered to extend the loan of the Oval Office bust so that O could continue to display it. He turned them down. Even if you don’t question his motives for doing so, the facts are what they are.

Exit question: Anyone willing/able to explain to me why, exactly, he wants to argue with Romney about this? The Great Bust Debate won’t move a single vote either way. Take the rest of the day off, Dan.


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