President Obama recently commented on the debate about whether the UK should remain in the European Union. He supported the government position that remaining in the EU is better.

Boris Johnson (mayor of London and a leading campaigner for the campaign to leave the EU) said in a newspaper article disagreeing with Obama's position that one of Obama's first presidential acts was to remove a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office.

Something mysterious happened when Barack Obama entered the Oval Office in 2009.

Something vanished from that room, and no one could quite explain why.

It was a bust of Winston Churchill – the great British war time leader... and it had sat there for almost ten years.

But on day one of the Obama administration it was returned, without ceremony, to the British embassy in Washington.

Ted Cruz had previously told the same story (see here) in criticising Obama.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, at the Iowa Freedom Summit on January 24, 2015, said, “One of the very first acts President Obama did upon being elected was sending Churchill’s bust back to the UK, and I think that foreshadowed everything that was to come the next six years.”

The accuracy of the story about the bust has been questioned (see the Guardian for an example).

So is what Cruz and Johnson say about the removal of Churchill's bust from the oval office correct or not?

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    +1 but did you see this Washington Post factchecker article linked to in the Guardian article? Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 13:41
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    @user568458 I knew there was quite a lot of comment/fact-checking on the story but I didn't read them all. And there seemed to be some disagreement. I thought it would be a good chance to get the definitive analysis recorded here to save everyone having to read dozens of partizan analyses of the story. If the Washington Post is definitive, a good summary would make a good answer here.
    – matt_black
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 13:44
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    @dawn The characterisations are accurate portrayals of the reasons why the story was told by Cruz and by Johnson and provides context to why an otherwise dull question has been raised. Johnson explicitly says "part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire" as one explanation of the act. Cruz was clearly criticising Obama. Those are not my pejorative interpretations. Moreover, this doesn't impact the clear factual nature of the question.
    – matt_black
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 15:29
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    It all distracts from the question and no matter how "clear" or accurate you think these characterizations are, they are subjective, and people can disagree. Instead of "complained" say "said". Instead of "in critcizing Obama", just let his claim speak for itself. Instead of "objecting to", say "responding to". Even better, remove it all and just ask about the bust, and don't assume that question is otherwise dull. It is interesting enough.
    – user30557
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 15:38
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    Presumably if the bust had stayed, Obama would have been accused of being a Monarchist. Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 21:10

2 Answers 2


The Washington Post article has fact checked this, and President Obama made reference to the bust on his 2016 visit to Britain.

The Cruz story is factually correct, but any implications that the return of the bust was some kind of snub are not.

The Johnson claim that 'something mysterious happened' and 'no one could quite explain why' is false.

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    Note that the Washington Post have now changed their mind; the linked article now says: "This column has been updated and the Pinocchios removed in light of new information."
    – mjs
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:15

Yes, Obama did remove the bust: at a press conference in London, Obama stated that upon his election, he decided to replace a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office with one of Dr. Martin Luther King. (Though a different bust of Churchill remains on display in the White House.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let me start with Winston Churchill. (Laughter.) You know, I don’t know if people are aware of this, but in the Residence, on the second floor, my office, my private office is called the Treaty Room. And right outside the door of the Treaty Room, so that I see it every day, including on weekends, when I’m going into that office to watch a basketball game -- (laughter) -- the primary image I see is a bust of Winston Churchill. It’s there voluntarily, because I can do anything on the second floor. (Laughter.) I love Winston Churchill. I love the guy.

Now, when I was elected as President of the United States, my predecessor had kept a Churchill bust in the Oval Office. There are only so many tables where you can put busts -- otherwise it starts looking a little cluttered. (Laughter.) And I thought it was appropriate, and I suspect most people here in the United Kingdom might agree, that as the first African American President, it might be appropriate to have a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King in my office to remind me of all the hard work of a lot of people who would somehow allow me to have the privilege of holding this office.

A "fact checker" column in the Washington Post explains this confusing affair in more detail, and concludes that Ted Cruz's version of events is essentially correct.

  • I could be misreading the article in your first link, but it doesn't appear that he's talking about replacing the bust of Churchill, only adding one of Dr. King. Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 18:22
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    The Washington Post article awards Ted Cruz Two Pinnicchios, indicating "significant omissions or exaggerations". That's not saying he is essentially correct. Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:02
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    @iamnotmaynard There's no debate about whether the bust was removed, only the circumstances under which it was removed. Obama said it happened because he thought one of King would be more appropriate. (Especially since there was already another bust of Churchill in The White House.)
    – mjs
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:11
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    @DJClayworth Have you read the Washington Post article recently? It now says "This column has been updated and the Pinocchios removed in light of new information": as I said, the Washington Post concluded that Ted Cruz's version of events was essentially correct.
    – mjs
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:14
  • @DJClayworth Indeed, mjs is right. WaPo retracted their previous statements, indicating that the White House previously lied about the incident.
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 5:05

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