U.S. Congressional Democrats and Republicans celebrated the life and legacy of the late former President Ronald Reagan Wednesday at the unveiling of a statue in his honor. It was a moment of rare bipartisanship at the U.S. Capitol -- a tribute to the spirit of the nation's 40th president.
Five years after former President Reagan's death, congressional leaders came together to recall his achievements.
For Republicans, Mr. Reagan continues to be a revered figure for his efforts to reduce the role of government, strengthen the military, and defeat Soviet communism.
"Ronald Reagan is remembered as one of the giants of the 20th century. He deserves our admiration," said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader.
House Republican Leader John Boehner noted that the base of Mr. Reagan's statue contains a piece of the Berlin Wall, a fitting tribute, he said, to the late president's efforts to bring an end to the Cold War. "This is a piece of rock from the Berlin Wall. Those walls came down because of Ronald Reagan's relentless commitment to freedom, and his insistence on American victory in the Cold War," he said.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from Mr. Reagan's home state of California recalled the late Republican president's ability to reach across party lines. "The president understood the value of bipartisanship and civility in our debate. Ever a gentleman, he never questioned the motives of a person because he knew people in public office loved our country and acted on behalf of the American people," she said.
Mr. Reagan's widow, 87-year-old former First Lady Nancy Reagan, was emotional as she noted it was her first time back in the Capitol Rotunda since her husband's body lay in state there after his death. "You know, the last time I was in this room was for Ronnie's service. So it's nice to be back under happier circumstances," she said.
Mrs. Reagan sat near her husband's friend, former Treasury Secretary James Baker, who said that while the late president was guided by deeply-held core values and principles about taxes and spending and national defense, he was also a pragmatist. "He would fight the good fight, and when he had won all that could be won, he would accept the compromises that are dictated often times by political reality, declare victory and move on," he said.
There will be more opportunities to reflect on Mr. Reagan's legacy in the coming years. On Tuesday, President Obama, with Mrs. Reagan at his side, signed a bill creating the Ronald Reagan Centennial commission, which will plan and carry out activities to mark the late president's 100th birthday in 2011.