- The Washington Times - Friday, April 22, 2016

Criticized for being anti-British and “part Kenyan,” President Obama tried Friday to explain once and for all the story that he banished a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office when he moved into the White House seven years ago.

According to Mr. Obama, he did indeed move Churchill’s bust out of his office. But he said he gave it a place of honor just as important in the White House residence.

At a news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, Mr. Obama was asked by a reporter about criticism by Mayor of London Boris Johnson that he harbors ill will against Britain because his ancestors were Kenyans under British colonial rule.

Mr. Obama replied, “Let me start with Winston Churchill.”

“I don’t know if people are aware of this, but in the [White House] residence, on the second floor, my office, my private office, is called the Treaty Room,” Mr. Obama said. “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, the primary image I see is a bust of Winston Churchill. It is there voluntarily cause I can do anything on the second floor. I love Winston Churchill. Love the guy.”

He said his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, kept a Churchill bust in the Oval Office. But Mr. Obama said as the first black president, he had other decorating ideas in mind.

“There are only so many tables [in the Oval Office] you can put busts — otherwise, it’s starts looking a little cluttered,” he said. “And I thought it was appropriate, and I suspect that 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.”

He added, “I think people should know that, know my thinking there.”

In an op-ed in the Sun, Britain’s best-selling newspaper, Mr. Johnson objected to Mr. Obama’s call for Britain to remain in the European Union and raised the matter of Churchill’s bust.

“No-one was sure whether the president had himself been involved in the decision,” he said. “Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British Empire — of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender.”

Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, said he thinks Mr. Obama harbors negative feelings about Britain due to his father’s ancestry. Kenya, where the president’s father was born, was a British colony.

“I think Obama, because of his grandfather and Kenya and colonisation, I think Obama bears a bit of a grudge against this country,” Mr. Farage said on BBC Radio.

Mr. Johnson has come under fire for his comments about Mr. Obama’s “part-Kenyan” ancestry. Diane Abbott, a Labour Party official, called the remarks “offensive.” Sir Stephen Wall, Britain’s former permanent representative to the EU, said Mr. Johnson’s “comment implying the president of the United States is driven by his ancestral dislike of the British empire is demeaning to the debate.”

The mayor of London is advocating for Britain to leave the EU in the June 23 referendum. Mr. Obama penned an op-ed in the Telegraph newspaper urging Britons to remain in the EU.

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