WASHINGTON -- In a city polarized by impeachment investigations, Republican and Democratic leaders paused Wednesday to pay tribute to a president from New York who is revered on both sides of the aisle -- Teddy Roosevelt.
At the invitation of U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., they planted a tree in honor of the nation's 26th president.
As a child, Roosevelt was sickly, suffering from asthma, but he became an avid outdoorsman, explorer, birdwatcher and hunter.
The tree planted in his honor, straight and spindly, offers little shade now. If it stays healthy, it will one day tower over visitors, officials said.
"We have selected a white oak, in part, because it starts small and ultimately develops into a strong and imposing specimen, much like this former president," said Thomas Carroll III, the acting architect of the Capitol.
Of the roughly 890 trees that are closest to the Capitol building, this is the first to honor Roosevelt, an ardent conservationist, Hill said.
The New York Republican, who died in 1919, helped establish 150 national forests and five national parks during his presidency, Hill said. He also created dozens of bird preserves. Under his leadership, roughly 230 million acres were preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.
Hill spearheaded the tree planting project, submitting a formal request and obtaining permission.
The lawmaker from Little Rock encouraged colleagues, staff members, environmental activists and Roosevelt descendants to attend Wednesday's tree dedication.
Many of them showed up.
As security guards scanned the perimeter, Pelosi greeted Hill, smiling as she sized up the crowd.
"Great turnout," she said. "You never know with a tree planting."
House Chaplain Patrick Conroy was also on hand, with a prayer for the occasion.
After sprinkling the tree with holy water, the Catholic priest asked God to bless it.
"May your honor and glory be seen in its growth. May your grandeur and power be seen in its strength. And may your comfort for us all be experienced in the shade that it will cast."
Pelosi said many people believe "that this planet is God's creation [and] that we have a moral responsibility to be good stewards of it. No one was a better steward of God's planet than President Roosevelt."
Hill quoted from an Arbor Day letter that Roosevelt had sent to schoolchildren: "A people without children would face a hopeless future. A country without trees is almost as helpless."
McCarthy called the tree "a living memorial as noble as a marble statue."
Republicans will propose a "trillion-tree program," later this year, he added.
A Swiss study, published earlier this year, said planting 1 trillion trees would help mitigate the effects of climate change.
Metro on 10/31/2019