Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice studied her larger-than-life likeness for a few moments before turning to the intimate crowd with a wide smile and joining her former colleagues in applause for the painting.
In her official portrait, Rice’s hair is coiffed and she’s wearing a sleek red jacket and white pearl necklace. She appears to be holding the back of a chair — much like another former secretary of state was recently photographed doing — lest anyone confuse it for a walker.
The luncheon reception for the big reveal Wednesday of Rice’s painting began an hour late because Secretary of State John F. Kerry was running behind. He told them he was “later than I have been, I think, at any moment, and it is simply because today the world could care less about the Secretary of State’s schedule.”
Guests included several notables from the George W. Bush administration like Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff; John Negroponte, the former director of national intelligence and later deputy state secretary; and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who was U.S. trade representative and later director of the Office of Management and Budget.
The media was shuffled out of the room before they feasted on mango-cucumber gazpacho, grilled wild salmon, and caramelized Virginia peaches over vanilla ice cream.
Kerry and Rice exchanged pleasantries and spoke of the legacy of the job and the challenges that faced, and still face, America and its role in the world. There was no direct reference to the escalating chaos in Iraq — although two former U.S. ambassadors to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad and Chris Hill, were in attendance. Rice did note that she, Kerry, Colin Powell and Hillary Rodham Clinton were part of an exclusive club of top diplomats serving after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The opulent portraits are a perk of the (sometimes thankless) Cabinet jobs. But Rice may have gotten hers in under the wire. Congress has decided the tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent per Cabinet official painting is a waste of money. For Rice’s portrait, State set aside $52,450.
The fiscal 2014 omnibus spending bill forbid all spending on portraits for the year, but the ban isn’t permanent. Five senators are sponsors of bipartisan legislation to cap portrait spending after this year at $20,000. If officials wanted a more expensive replica of themselves hanging at their former job, they could use private funds.
Rice, for her part, praised the presence of the portraits in the department as a reminder to current secretaries of the challenges faced by those who have followed in line after Thomas Jefferson.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, and indeed if you read today’s headlines you wonder if it’s ever going to happen,” Rice said, referring to long-fought conflicts abroad. “But let me just assure you that today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same. And one of the reasons that these portraits are so important is that they remind us of that.”
That line was the closest she, or Kerry, got to referencing the mounting U.S. foreign policy woes.