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Reagan Statue Unveiled In U.S. Capitol

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Today, a new statue stands under the dome of U.S. Capitol. It is a seven foot tall bronze likeness of America's 40th president, Ronald Reagan. As NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, the unveiling ceremony today was poignant and not without its political moments.

ANDREA SEABROOK: The crowd in the Capitol Rotunda was a who's who of the Republican Party. Chairman Michael Steele pumped arms, Senator John McCain and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger mingled and all showed great reverence to the person who was closest to President Reagan: Former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

Ms. NANCY REAGAN (Former First Lady): The statue is a wonderful likeness of Ronny. And he would be so proud.

SEABROOK: President Reagan died five years ago and his body lay in state here in the Rotunda.

Ms. REAGAN: You know, the last time that I was in this room was for Ronny's service. So, it's nice to be back under happier circumstances.

SEABROOK: House Republican leader John Boehner gave a speech full of longing. His lip quivered as he repeated the words President Reagan spoke when he commemorated the fallen serviceman at Omaha Beach.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; House Republican Leader): We will always remember, we will always be proud, we will always be prepared so that we may always be free.

SEABROOK: And although it was a sweet tribute, it was not without its politics. After all, this is Washington and Reagan himself was the consummate politician. Boehner took a moment in his speech to credit the former president with every job created in America, straight through the 1990s.

Mr. BOEHNER: And Reagan's economic policies inspired the largest peace-time expansion in U.S. history. The growth was predicated on free trade, low taxes, deregulation and curbing runaway inflation.

SEABROOK: On the other side, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lauded the former First Lady Nancy Reagan for a political stance that might have been a little poke in the eye to the doting Republican's present.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): Your support for stem cell research has made a significant difference in the lives of many American people. It has saved lives. It has found cures. It has given hope to people.

SEABROOK: But in the end the ceremony was a crowd pleaser.

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentleman, the statue of President Ronald Reagan.

SEABROOK: Nancy Reagan pulled off the royal blue sheet that had covered the statue, revealing the man with that famous glimmer in his eyes.

(Soundbite of applause)

SEABROOK: She leaned forward and stroked his knee a bit. The Capitol Rotunda is home to statues of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony, Dwight Eisenhower among others. And now Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Seabrook
Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.