WASHINGTON - Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s portrait was unveiled Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol, a traditional honor bestowed on a tradition-breaking leader who was not just the first woman to hold the gavel but among the most consequential House speakers in American history — one who "got it done."
The ceremony at the ornate Statuary Hall drew current and former members of Congress, friends and family. The guests included the Democratic leader’s husband, Paul Pelosi, who is recovering from a brutal attack by an intruder who broke into their San Francisco home seeking the speaker in the weeks before the midterm election.
Former President Barack Obama said in a videotaped message that Pelosi has "inspired a generation of women to run, win and lead because they’ve seen her, what someone like her — and someone like them — can do."
Obama recounted how his signature Affordable Care Act was all but abandoned after a Senate election defeat, except for Pelosi’s persistence. "The only thing she wasn’t willing to do was give up. And like always, she got it done."
But it was the former Republican speaker, John Boehner, known for teary eyes at times like these, who did not disappoint.
Choking up as he talked about his own two adult daughters, Boehner said: "My girls told me, tell the speaker how much we admire her."
Pelosi’s portrait was painted years ago after her first tenure as speaker from 2007 to 2011 but was held back. She regained the gavel in 2019, the first House leader in some 50 years to twice become speaker.
Pelosi announced after the November midterm election, when the Democrats lost power to Republicans, that she would not seek another term as leader, ending 20 years helming the party in the House. She is staying on as as the representative from San Francisco.
Among those in the audience was Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who is struggling to round up the votes to replace her as speaker when the new Congress convenes in January. He sat alongside Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who Democrats elected as their new party leader, the historic first Black American to lead a major political party.
"The younger generation today has the saying: Game recognizes game," Boehner said. "And the fact of the matter is no other speaker of the House in the modern era Republican or Democrat — has wielded the gavel with such authority or with such consistent results. Let me just say, You’re one tough cookie."
Painted by the late Ronald Sherr in 2014, the portrait of Pelosi will hang in the Speaker’s Lobby, a room adjacent to the House chamber, filled with the portraits of past speakers, all of them white men.
In her own remarks, Pelosi said she was honored her colleagues "had the courage to elect a woman speaker."
"This painting will stand out as a woman in that Speaker’s Lobby," Pelosi said. "I’m honored to be the first, but it will only be a big of accomplishment if I’m not the last."