The walls of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee room were bare Thursday afternoon, with a handful of tiny holes where portraits of past committee chairmen once hung.
Reports that new Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, took down the committee chairmen portraits had the gossip mill buzzing Thursday. The Hill first reported the news, along with comments from disgruntled staffers who took the move as a swipe at former Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Issa’s portrait had only been hanging since mid-November before it was moved out of the room. Though the Office of the Clerk is responsible for displaying works of art on the House side of the Capitol, Chaffetz is allowed to move the paintings. According to an aide with the House Administration Committee, the chairman controls the committee room decor. “Well, I repainted the walls when I was chairman,” Issa said at the GOP retreat in Hershey, Pa. “You know it’s the chairman’s prerogative to decorate in any way that he or she wants to. So I think you don’t make a big thing of it.”
Chaffetz said Issa was informed ahead of time that his portrait would be taken down, and he said the California Republican took the news well.
“[Issa] said, ‘You’re the new chairman, you can do it as you want,” Chaffetz explained at the GOP retreat. “He was actually very nice about it.”
In place of the former chairmen’s portraits, Chaffetz plans to hang scenes from around America, including a picture depicting the Postal Service and another showing a scene from the civil rights movement.
“I really felt strongly that in that committee room we should be inspired by those we serve, not inspired by past committee chairman,” Chaffetz said. “And so I went with [ranking member] Elijah Cummings and I have an array of photos that will go up in the coming weeks.”
The Democrats have already hung their chairmen’s portraits in the Democratic anteroom. It is unclear where the Republican portraits will go.
Asked at the retreat if he knew where his portrait would hang, Issa jokingly responded, “Well, I know the administration would like to hang me, so perhaps you could check with Obama.”
Contrary to the pattern of former chairmen, Chaffetz said he will not have his own portrait done when it comes time to relinquish the Oversight gavel.
“I have no desire to do that,” Chaffetz said. “And I can’t afford it. They can have my cot when I leave, I’ll leave it at that.”
In the House, representatives usually don’t pay for their portraits out of their own pockets. The lawmaker sets up a fundraising committee , which solicits private donations, and that committee coordinates with the U.S. Capitol Historic Society to cover the cost of a portrait. These portraits typically range from $25,000 to $50,000 and the process take eight to 14 months.
Chaffetz’ reference to his cot is a nod to his sleeping arrangements. When in Washington, he sleeps in his office.
Matt Fuller and Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.
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