George W. Bush, Dick Cheney visit the Capitol for Bill Frist portrait unveiling
Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was in the Capitol on Wednesday for the unveiling of his official portrait. Former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were also on hand for the event. Below is our pool report on the gathering, which took place in the Old Senate Chamber, the room where the Senate used to meet from 1810 to 1859 but which is now used mostly for ceremonial events:
Scores of current and former senators, aides and administration officials - including former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney -- filled the Old Senate Chamber shortly after 3:30 p.m. Wednesday for the unveiling of the portrait of former Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who served as majority leader from 2003 until his retirement in 2007.
Bush, clad in a dark blue suit, appeared upbeat as he sat onstage next to Frist to the left of a podium. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and former Senate chaplain Llyod Ogilvie sat on the opposite side of the podium. Cheney was sitting in the audience, as were several other Bush administration officials, including former Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and McConnell's wife, former Labor secretary Elaine Chao.
Among the former senators in attendance were Republicans Fred Thompson (Tenn.), Pete Domenici (N.M.), Don Nickles (Okla.), Rick Santorum (Pa.), Norm Coleman (Minn.), John Warner (Va.), Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) and Spencer Abraham (Mich.). A host of current senators from both parties were present; MSNBC host Chris Matthews was also spotted in the crowd.
The portrait unveiling was preceded by about 40 minutes' worth of speeches. Ogilvie spoke first, delivering an invocation in which he called Frist a "man for all seasons, who is motivated by the best of all reasons, to glorify [God]."
Then Reid delivered brief remarks. "Bill Frist never has forgotten the role of the individual in the work that he does," Reid said, going on to describe Frist's humanitarian work, which has taken him to Africa multiple times. "We know he appreciates the title of humanitarian more than the one for which we honor him with this portrait today, and because he does, we appreciate him."
Bush took to the podium next, greeted by a standing ovation as he began his four-minute remarks. "It takes a really good friend to get me to come back to Washington," he said to laughter. "I am thrilled to be here. Laura sends her love to Karen and Bill. ... I'm proud to be here with Senator Reid and Senator McConnell. They represent the present. And I represent the past," Bush said, to more laughs.
Addressing Frist, Bush said, "I can assure you, Bill, that we are delighted to be here to watch you hang," drawing another round of laughter from the crowd. He praised Frist's tenure as majority leader. "I really admired the fact that Bill served during tough times, but he left the Senate in a gentlemanly way," Bush said. "I appreciated the tone he set."
Calling Frist "a man of accomplishment," Bush noted that he appreciated the fact that Frist "lived by the call, 'to whom much is given, much is required.'" Instead of going home during Senate recess to "schmooze with the folks of Tennessee," Bush said, "this guy is saving lives on the continent of Africa. He's got God-given talents that he was willing to use on behalf of those who suffered. ... I thought that was an awesome example of what it means to be a public servant."
Bush received another standing ovation as he turned the podium over to Frist.
Frist kicked off his 18 minute-remarks by telling Bush that he felt "a sort of interlocking kinship" between his family and the former president's.
"And Mr. President, some day, there just might be - it's kind of scary - but a George Bush Frist," Frist said, noting that if Bush hadn't run for reelection, Frist's eldest son, Harrison, wouldn't have met his future wife, Ashley, on Bush's reelection campaign. Five years later, Frist said, the two got engaged "on the top of the dome of this Capitol," so without Bush, "we simply wouldn't be here as a family."
"It's kind of frightening, George Bush Frist, but Ashley, speed it up," Frist said, drawing laughs.
Frist then addressed those currently serving in the Senate and urged them to "leave something here, a little bit of something" that makes it a better place. He also urged the Senate to return to the concept of the "citizen legislator," calling on members to serve and then "voluntarily leave and enter, hopefully, a little bit more productive phase of your life" after serving in the upper chamber.
He said that during the nearly 50 years in which the Senate met in the Old Senate Chamber from 1810 to 1859, there were 17 doctors that had been elected to the Senate. By contrast, from 1950 to 2000, Frist said that "there was one physician, and that was me."
Frist closed by thanking his political mentor, former Senate majority leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), who Frist said was not able to make it to Wednesday's event.
"To Senator Baker, we love you and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for that very early encouragement to take a doctor who was out there treating patients one-on-one every day, to run for the United States Senate, having never run for public office," Frist said.
After Frist spoke, McConnell took the podium and spoke for about five minutes. "Like his father, he has combined public service with a doctor's concern for people," McConnell said of Frist. "He has shown all of us here and many, many others what it means to serve, and that is a legacy that any man should be proud of."
Then Bush, Frist and members of Frist's family stood together on the left side of the podium, where a pair of dark blue curtains was parted to reveal Frist's portrait.
In the portrait, Frist is wearing a dark suit, a light blue shirt with a white collar and a dark red tie; his left arm is draped over the mantle of a white marble fireplace and his right hand is in his pocket.
(Except for the tie, the outfit in the portrait was nearly identical to what Frist was wearing at the unveiling event; his tie Wednesday was bright purple instead of red.)
Bush, Frist, Reid and McConnell then stood together before the portrait for a photo. They were followed by a long line of other guests who posed for photos with Frist and his family over the next 20 minutes or so. Then guests headed to a reception in the Mansfield Room, where the fare included wine and beef-tenderloin-and-cheese biscuits.
| March 2, 2011; 5:54 PM ET
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