1 of 5 | Former Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his wife, Janna, unveil his portrait during an unveiling ceremony in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
May 17 (UPI) -- Former House Speaker Paul Ryan urged lawmakers to address the nation's debt during a ceremony to unveil his Capitol portrait on Wednesday.
Ryan called the national debt a "white whale" that he could not catch during his tenure as House speaker. As he spoke from the podium in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., Ryan acknowledged the looming debt ceiling deadline.
"If and when we fix that -- and I do urge you to fix that -- I'm confident that America will be assured of another great century," Ryan said.
Ryan recalled his 25 years working on Capitol Hill, including five years as a staffer. He said passing a balanced budget resolution for four years in the House was among the work of which he was most proud.
Ryan also highlighted the importance of working together with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to achieve shared goals.
"We had passionate disagreements -- on policy -- but we never lost sight of the importance of this institution and the role that it plays for our society and our country," he said.
Becoming the House speaker was not a goal of his, he said. Instead, he strived to become the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which he did in 2015.
The ceremony was attended by lawmakers from both parties, including current and former House speakers. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy were among those to laud Ryan's achievements.
"Baseball has its five-tool players. The House has Paul Ryan," Jeffries said. "He practiced the art of statesmanship where we could agree to disagree on policy without ever being disagreeable with each other personally."
McCarthy, alluding to debt ceiling negotiations with President Joe Biden, recalled Ryan's foreboding thoughts on the national debt in 2012.
"Early on, Paul warned about the threats of the national debt," he said. "I just wish more people had listened to you back then."
The portrait, painted by Leslie Bowman, a Minneapolis-based artist known for her many political portraits, including others of the former speaker. Ryan's Capitol portrait will be displayed in the Speaker's Lobby outside the House chambers at the Capitol.
"Leslie had the fortune, or misfortune, of doing all three of my portraits. I'm so relieved we picked her because they've all been beautiful," Ryan remarked. "Beautiful might be the wrong word to use given Leslie's source material, but they've all been very well done."