President Biden has removed the bust of former U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill from display in the Oval Office — tapping back into an Obama-era controversy over the bust.
The Washington Post, as part of a tour of the new design of the famous room, reported that Biden “does not have the bust on display.” However, other busts, including labor leader Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr., are on display.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair had loaned President George W. Bush a bust of the British wartime leader in 2001. Former President Barack Obama had caused controversy by removing it when he entered office in 2009, and it was viewed by critics as a snub of the U.S.-U.K. alliance — although his White House noted that there was still a Churchill bust elsewhere in the building.
The controversy simmered for years, with then-London Mayor Boris Johnson noting in 2016 that “some said it was a snub to Britain.”
“Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British Empire — of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender,” he said in an article. Johnson, who is now U.K. prime minister, was widely criticized for the article — particularly the description of Obama as “part-Kenyan.”
Former President Donald Trump restored a bust of Churchill to the Oval Office when he became president, and posted with then-Prime Minister Theresa May during their first meeting in Washington in 2017.
“This is the original folks, in many, many ways,” he told the press at the time. “It’s a great honor to have Winston Churchill back.”
“We’re very pleased,” May had replied.
The U.S.-U.K. relationship under Biden will be crucial for Britain’s post-Brexit future, with the U.K. government hoping for a robust free trade deal between the two countries as it seeks to solidify its economic independence after leaving the E.U. at the end of 2020.
When asked about the bust, a spokesman for 10 Downing Street told The Daily Mail: “The Oval Office is the President’s private office and it is up to the President to decorate it as he wishes.”
The spokesman added: “We are in no doubt about the importance President Biden puts on the US-UK [sic] relationship.”