A Bust of a Controversy

Posted: Jul 27, 2012 4:54 PM

When President Obama took office in 2009, there was somewhat of a controversy over the subject of a bust of Winston Churchill that had sat inside George W. Bush's Oval Office. President Obama didn't request to keep the bust there - which had been on loan from the British Embassy - which led to reports of "pulse rates soaring among anxious British diplomats" worried that the special relationship between the United States and Britain would be threatened.

Source: White House

Mitt Romney, campaigning in England yesterday, mentioned that he'd rectify this situation and bring the bust back to the White House. The waters were muddied, however, when White House Communications Director Dan Pfieffer posted a "fact check" on the White House website, stating that Obama's removal of the Bush White House Churchill bust was "100% false" and posted a picture of President Obama and the bust in the White House in 2010.

James Barbour, Press Secretary for the British Embassy, cleared the air for me. President Obama did send the bust back to the British Embassy at the beginning of his term. Either Dan Pfieffer was intentionally lying or he didn't have his facts right. The bust that was on display in the Bush White House did, in fact, leave the White House and now is in the residence of the British Ambassador. However, the White House has another one by the same artist from the same time period.

After the controversy involving the Bush White House's Churchill bust, the Obama Administration dug up its other version - which has been in possession of the White House for decades - and put it prominently on display.

Here's the full statement that Barbour e-mailed:

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.

That’s not really what’s important here. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have repeatedly underlined that our two countries remain the closest of allies. The Churchill Bust story is a silly diversion – let’s get on and focus on seeing who wins most medals in the Olympics.