Republicans and Democrats Pay Tribute to Pelosi as Her Portrait Is Unveiled

WASHINGTON — It has been 15 years since Nancy Pelosi made history as the first woman to be elected speaker of the House.

On Wednesday, that history was placed on display on the walls of the Capitol, when Ms. Pelosi’s official portrait was unveiled and set to be hung in the speaker’s lobby, adorned until now only with gilt-framed oil portraits of the white men who preceded Ms. Pelosi in the post, including Sam Rayburn, Tip O’Neill and Frederick Muhlenberg, the House’s first speaker.

“My members had the courage to elect a woman speaker,” Ms. Pelosi, dressed in white, told a crowd that gathered in Statuary Hall to mark the occasion.

The ceremony honoring Ms. Pelosi’s likeness and legacy brought together former rivals, would-be successors, colleagues going back decades, cabinet officials and television anchors. It even featured a virtual cameo by former President Barack Obama, who made a video tribute in which he pronounced her “one of the most accomplished legislators in American history.”

Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the minority leader, who is in the middle of a white-knuckle fight to succeed Ms. Pelosi, sat silently, sandwiched between Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Ms. Pelosi’s longtime No. 2, and Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the incoming minority leader. Former Representative Joseph Crowley, the onetime heir apparent to Ms. Pelosi who lost his seat in 2018 to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, also showed up to honor Ms. Pelosi.

John Boehner, who was speaker between Ms. Pelosi’s two stints in the role, teared up as he spoke of her as a role model to his daughters.

“Game recognizes game,” Mr. Boehner said, noting that he was borrowing a phrase from the younger generation. “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.”

It all served as a reminder that Ms. Pelosi, 82, has outlasted them all.

Even though Ms. Pelosi is stepping down from leadership, Mr. Obama said, “I’ll still feel better knowing that your portrait will be looking down from these walls, reminding everyone who sees it to keep up the fight.”

Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat and majority leader, described sitting in a safe room with Ms. Pelosi during the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, working to restore order to Congress after a pro-Trump mob disrupted the official electoral count to confirm Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.

“Watching her, marveling at her,” Mr. Schumer said, “was one of my proudest moments ever of my time in office.”

But he said Ms. Pelosi had impressed him well before that.

“From the start, it was obvious: This new member had it all,” Mr. Schumer said. “She knew the issues, she knew the politics, and most importantly, she knew what she was fighting for.”

Ms. Pelosi’s portrait, painted by the artist Ronald Sherr, was completed in 2014 and has been in storage ever since. In the painting, Ms. Pelosi is pictured dressed in a maroon suit with a heavy string of pearls, holding the speaker’s gavel, her eyes focused on something out of sight but ahead of her.

Mr. Sherr died last week.

The walls of the speaker’s lobby — a long, carpeted corridor outside the House chamber where members gather between votes — feature the portraits of more than 20 former speakers, with several more hanging in the halls around the Capitol. The tradition of hanging portraits dates back to 1852, with the donation of a portrait of Henry Clay, who served as House speaker three times, from the artist Giuseppe Fagnani. The House began mandating oil paintings of the speakers in 1910.

The portrait unveiling ceremony capped what has become an extended consideration and celebration of Ms. Pelosi’s legacy since she announced last month on the House floor that she would step down from leadership but remain in Congress.

On Tuesday night, a documentary by her daughter, the filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, was released on HBO, offering a sympathetic behind-the-scenes look at the Democratic Party’s most dominant political operator of the past two decades. The film included intimate scenes of the always-coiffed Ms. Pelosi relentlessly working the phone while making her bed, dressed in pajamas, as well as behind-the-scenes footage of her whipping votes for the Affordable Care Act.

Ms. Pelosi appeared moved by the outpouring on Wednesday. Of the tribute from Mr. Boehner, who is known to choke up publicly in big moments, she joked, “I would have been a little disappointed if he didn’t get emotional.”

Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, Democrat of California, said Ms. Pelosi was treated disrespectfully when she was first elected speaker.

“You may recall how initially much of the news coverage was more about her clothes, shoes and hair, than about the strength of her leadership and her grasp of the critical issues before Congress and our country,” Ms. Roybal-Allard said.

Paul Pelosi, Ms. Pelosi’s husband, attended the ceremony less than two months after being attacked at the couple’s San Francisco home.Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

But her record, as the woman who twice led Democrats to power in the House and has been a central figure in the legislative accomplishments of the Obama and Biden administrations, has done away with any caricature based solely on her gender.

“She is the most effective speaker in the history of the United States,” Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, said.

Afterward, guests, including Ms. Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, who was attacked in October at the couple’s San Francisco home by an assailant who was said to have been targeting the speaker, gathered for a reception in a room near the House floor.

Outside was a new sign, hung at 6 o’clock Wednesday morning, bearing the room’s new name: the “Speaker Nancy Pelosi Caucus Room.”

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