WASHINGTON — Nancy Pelosi brought some unusual guests to the US Capitol on Thursday as she was sworn in as the 116th Congress’s House Speaker: fashion designer Tim Gunn, the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart and, most notably, legendary crooner Tony Bennett.
While addressing the House floor Thursday afternoon, Pelosi recognized the 92-year-old singer and noted his military service during World War II, in which he participated in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp near Lansdberg in Bavaria.
“I want to acknowledge Tony Bennett,” Pelosi said, with the New York native sitting in the House chamber’s visitor gallery. “He is with us here today. He helped free the concentration camps during World War II. He marched with Martin Luther King.”
In November 1944, Bennett, born Anthony Benedetto, was drafted into the US Army and was stationed in Germany during the final stages of the war.
The experience traumatized him, he said, and turned him into a pacifist. “Anybody who thinks that war is romantic obviously hasn’t gone through one,” he once said. “It was a nightmare that’s permanent.”
Throughout his musical career, Bennett was politically active. He was engaged in the Civil Rights Movement and marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, refused to perform in South Africa during its apartheid period, and has long been a Democratic donor.
His most famous song — “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” — has an obvious resonance for Pelosi, whose House district encompasses both the city and county of San Francisco.
Bennett has long been a supporter of Pelosi’s, having attended her first swearing-in ceremony in 2007. According to The Washington Post, he sang his famous song about her district Wednesday night at an exclusive dinner at Italy’s DC embassy. President Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton were reportedly in attendance.
The 116th Congress gaveled into session Thursday, with Pelosi returning to the House speaker’s office, which she lost in 2010, and a new class of Democratic freshmen representatives ready to take control of the House and set up a new period of divided government in Washington.
The new Congress is the most diverse in American history, with more women than ever before, and a plethora of Muslims, Latinos, Native Americans, and African Americans taking House seats. In her remarks Thursday, Pelosi called it a “new dawn” for Capitol Hill.