(CNSNews.com) - With tears in her eyes, former first lady Nancy Reagan said she was glad to be back in Washington for a happier occasion than when her husband lay in state under the Capitol dome.
“The statue is a wonderful likeness of Ronnie, and he would be so proud,” Reagan said.
She said she had a lot of people to thank, but only mentioned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) by name.
The two embraced following the unveiling of the statue, sculpted by North Carolina artist Chas Fagan, who included pieces from the Berlin Wall that Reagan famously told Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down.”
“President Reagan and Mrs. Reagan had one of the great love stories of all time, and the American people benefited from that,” Pelosi said. “The support, the love, that Mrs. Reagan gave the president were a source of joy to the American people and of strength to the president of the United States.”
The bi-partisan event, however, was not without its political pitches.
Pelosi referred to Reagan’s support for stem cell research and House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) included references to Reagan’s conservative credentials.
“Today we honor President Reagan’s lifetime of achievement, and we honor his legacy of economic and political freedom,” Boehner said. “Early in his presidency, he fought to enact a set of tax cuts authored in part by a fellow conservative who would have been honored to be here today – Jack Kemp.
“The tax cuts President Reagan enacted dropped rates that were as high as 70 percent. This allowed entrepreneurs to build, expand, and create jobs,” Boehner said.
“Reagan’s economic policies inspired the largest peacetime expansion in U.S. history,” Boehner said. “This growth was predicated on free trade, low taxes, deregulation, and curbing runaway inflation.
“I recently had the privilege of touring the Reagan Ranch near Santa Barbara,” Boehner said. “One of the best things I saw was the table used to sign the Kemp-Roth tax cuts. The free market policies set in motion on that very table were responsible for creating an estimated 35 million jobs through 1999.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) cited Reagan’s stance on foreign policy.
“When the world thought freedom was in retreat, Ronald Reagan proved that liberty was still the strongest force in history,” McConnell said. “And when many thought freedom should negotiate with tyranny, Ronald Reagan had the courage to call tyranny by its name, and to say that freedom would win.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also had kind words about Reagan’s foreign policy legacy – put in place, he said, as the president took the oath of office for his second term.
“On that bitter cold day at the height of the Cold War, President Reagan’s characteristic confidence warmed and reassured America,” Reid said.
“President Reagan’s travels – from Dixon, Illinois; Hollywood; and Las Vegas to Washington, Berlin and beyond – left as enduring a legacy as anyone who has ever unfurled the long ribbon of our nation’s history,” Reid said. “And throughout that time, Nevadans have always been proud to call him our neighbor, our leader and our friend.”
Reagan’s former chief of staff and Treasury secretary, James Baker, also touted his former boss’ conservative values and his love for those he served.
“Most of all, perhaps, (Reagan believed in) the essential goodness of the American people,” Baker said.
The rotunda was filled with many other dignitaries, including Former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former California Gov. Pete Wilson.
The Armed Forces Color Guard presented the colors, a fife and drum corps performed, and the United States Army Chorus gave stirring renditions of the National Anthem and “America the Beautiful.”
The event began and ended with prayer – the opening prayer was led by the Rev. Barry Black, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, and the benediction offered by the Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin, chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives.