An Oval Office redesign brought new busts in place: Latino civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, pastor Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt.
In another era, the same decision caused outcry. American conservatives and even some British politicians declared it a big snub.
Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, said it was because President Barack Obama “probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists persecuting his grandfather.”
Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, argued that the decorating decision “foresaw everything that was to come in the next six years.”
Boris Johnson, then mayor of London and now prime minister, went the furthest. He blamed the loot on “the reluctance of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestors against the British Empire.”
The attacks were blatantly racist and also misleading. Obama officials were furious.
There are actually two identical Churchill busts, both by the British modernist sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein. One has been in the White House collection since Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. Another was lent by Prime Minister Tony Blair to George W. Bush White House when the other was restored.
The one from Blair sat on display in the Oval Office until Bush left. It was returned to the British Government.
Under Obama, the White House-owned version was not shown in the Oval Office; instead, Obama kept it outside the treaty room in the residence, where he walked past it when he wanted to watch basketball on the weekends and in the evenings. He chose to put it there so he could see it in his personal time. He had a bust of King in the office.
He dealt with the situation during his final year in office.
“I love the guy,” he said during a visit to London, adding later: “There are only so many tables where one can lay busts. Otherwise it starts to look a little messy.”
When Trump arrived, he returned to Churchill for the oval office, much to the British (proclaimed). At the time, Prime Minister Theresa May, who was Trump’s first foreign visitor to the Oval Office, came armed with the British version of the bust to present to Trump. Officials said the Trump team had requested it.
“We were very happy that you accepted it again,” May told him.
Now the bust is gone again. But Johnson, who is now prime minister and hopes to cement strong ties with the new administration, does not appear to have the same reaction.
“The Oval Office is the President’s private office, and it’s up to the President to decorate it as he wishes,” a Downing Street spokesman said Thursday. “We have no doubt how important President Biden attaches to the relationship between Britain and the United States, and the Prime Minister looks forward to having a close relationship with him.”