With more than 25 years of combined service in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, and 10 years as Senate Democratic leader, Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota has played an historic role in the development of U.S. legislative and regulatory policy. The only senator to serve twice as both majority and minority leader, Daschle steered the nation through the second impeachment trial of a U.S. president and co-presided over the first evenly split Senate in 2001. He led the Senate in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the anthrax attack on his office one month later.
It was Daschle's fondness for the Senate's portrait of Majority Leader Mike Mansfield that led him to select the same artist for his own official likeness. Portraitist Aaron Shikler originally intended to paint Senator Daschle standing, or “thinking on his feet,” as Shikler mused, but this informal seated pose developed over the course of several sessions in the artist's studio. Daschle is shown poised on the arm of his mahogany Senate Chamber chair, as if he is set to spring into action. Long associated with the Senate, the chair features a distinctive klismos-style back and carved sunburst based on the 1819 design by New York cabinetmaker Thomas Constantine. The document in Dachle's right hand refers in a general sense to legislation, which the artist felt reflects a Senate leader's accomplishments.
Aaron Shikler is noted for his portraits of prominent American political figures. He painted the posthumous White House portrait of President John F. Kennedy, as well as the official White House portraits of first ladies Jacqueline Kennedy and Nancy Reagan. His informal portrait of Ronald Reagan became a national icon when it graced the cover of Time magazine's “Man of the Year” issue in 1981. Shikler is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Brooklyn Museum, the National Academy of Design, the New Britain Museum of American Art, Jordan's Royal Palace, and numerous other American museums, public buildings, and private collections.
Thomas Daschle of South Dakota earned a B.A. from South Dakota State University in 1969 and afterwards served for three years as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Air Force Strategic Command. After serving for five years as an aide to Senator James Abourezk, Daschle ran a successful campaign for the House of Representatives in 1978 and served for eight years. In 1986 he won election to the U.S. Senate, where he focused on policy related to agriculture, American Indians, and healthcare. Elected party leader by a thin margin in 1994, two years later he was the unanimous choice to continue as leader. Senator Robert Byrd, a former Democratic leader himself, commented that Daschle “has steel in his spine, despite his reasonable and modest demeanor.” Daschle negotiated the power-sharing agreement that governed the evenly divided Senate in 2001 and helmed the party during the tumultuous days of the September 11 and anthrax attacks of 2001.