One of the first acts of new U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan was to remove the official portrait of former Speaker Dennis Hastert from a lobby area just off the floor of the House, replacing that painting with a portrait of a Republican Speaker from the early 20th century.
“The Speaker believed it was appropriate to rotate in a different portrait,” said Ryan spokeswoman Ashlee Strong.
Last week, Hastert plead guilty to charges that he had evaded federal banking laws; reports indicate the ex-Speaker was paying $3.5 million to someone from his past, possibly to hide claims of sexual misconduct.
The Hastert painting had hung in a prominent spot in the Speaker’s Lobby, an ornate area just off the House floor where reporters can wait to speak to lawmakers of both parties.
Hastert was replaced in the Speaker’s Lobby with a portrait of Speaker Frederick Gillett, a Republican from Massachusetts.
There was no immediate explanation as to why Gillett was chosen, but a quick look back at history may help us draw a parallel between Ryan and Gillett.
Ryan is now Speaker because of increasing opposition among Republicans to the decisions of John Boehner, as many disliked what they charged was a top-down leadership style from Boehner that excluded many lawmakers.
Meanwhile, Gillett was the first Republican elected after the House had deposed Speaker Joe Cannon, whose autocratic rule had angered members of both parties.
Gillett was seen as someone who would not be as powerful as Cannon; a number of Republicans believe Ryan will do the same in the post-Boehner era.
The move to take out Hastert’s portrait came a few hours after Ryan had gaveled the House to order for the first time after being elected Speaker last Thursday, replacing Rep. John Boehner (R-OH).
“The House will be in order,” Ryan said firmly, as he brought down the gavel like someone who had been doing it for years as Speaker.
A few seconds later, a House clerk read the resignation letter of Boehner to an almost empty chamber.
“It has been an honor to serve. Sincerely, John A. Boehner.”
Ryan then noted that with Boehner’s resignation, there were now 434 members of the House. Boehner’s seat will not be filled until a special election in June of 2016.
One other note about Speaker Gillett – I found this article about him from the New York Times – it shows that golf was also a popular diversion for politicians almost a hundred years ago.