Will Trump back women’s museum?

Dec 1, 2016
In The News

President-elect Donald Trump will face a delicate question after he takes office next year: whether to support building a women’s history museum on the National Mall.

The two main proponents of the bipartisan push, which has been going on for years, both have ties to the real estate mogul.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), whose Midtown Manhattan district includes Trump Tower, has been working on the proposal since 1998. Federal Election Commission records show that Trump donated to her congressional campaigns in the past. 

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a member of Trump’s transition team, helped usher legislation through the House two years ago, along with Maloney, to study establishing a women’s history museum.

Maloney told The Hill that she’s reached out to Trump’s team about the idea of building a women’s history museum but hasn’t had a “detailed conversation” yet.

“I will certainly be asking for his support when his administration takes over,” Maloney said in an email exchange.

Whether Trump proceeds with the museum or rejects it, the decision is sure to be newsworthy given the controversies over his treatment of women that dogged his presidential campaign.

Trump’s transition team did not respond to a request for comment. 

A bipartisan congressional commission, established by the bill approved in 2014, issued a report in November proposing a timeline that would coincide with the Trump administration.

The commission outlined a 10-year plan that includes enacting legislation authorizing the museum by 2018 and finalizing a site selection on the National Mall by 2020. If all were to go to plan, construction would begin in 2023, although the museum’s opening in 2026 would fall outside a Trump presidency even if he won a second term.

The major obstacle for legislation authorizing construction and a location for the museum will likely be how to pay for it.

The commission report estimated a total budget of $148 million for construction and pre-opening marketing efforts, with annual operating costs of $20 million for a 75,000-square-foot building. Those numbers could change depending on the museum’s final size. 

Maloney and Blackburn staved off objections from many fiscal hawks for their 2014 bill by ensuring the commission would be funded by private donations. At the time, they posited that the museum could also be funded with private contributions. 

But the commission doused cold water on that idea with its conclusion that the museum wouldn’t be feasible without at least some public funding.

The commission’s report suggested that the government could provide a plot of land or an existing building free of charge, while private funds would be responsible for the museum’s construction. It proposes the government handle the annual costs of operating the museum, just as it already does for other institutions in the Smithsonian system.

The Smithsonian currently receives about 60 percent of its funding from the federal government. 

Even the 2014 measure to study the idea of creating a women’s museum encountered opposition from some conservatives skeptical of a museum that might promote what they see as a leftist ideology of “radical feminism.” 

“I really feel concerned that this museum will become a shrine to radical feminism, to pro-abortion ideology and will violate the principles that a lot of women hold,” then-Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said at the time.

The commission declined to offer a comprehensive list of possible exhibits in the museum but called for displaying a diversity of experiences in women’s history.

“Exhibits should illuminate both the things that set women apart from one another while also highlighting the points of interaction, demonstrating opportunities for cooperation and moments of conflict,” the commission’s report said. 

Conservatives who opposed the 2014 legislation further predicted the museum would not ultimately be self-financed and would therefore add to the federal deficit. 

The Susan B. Anthony List, Heritage Action, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council were among the advocacy groups that opposed the bill two years ago.  

Maloney and Blackburn’s legislation passed by a vote of 383-33, with all of the votes in opposition from Republicans. It never made it through the Senate because Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and then-Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) blocked its passage over concerns about the museum’s fiscal impact.

The measure was ultimately tucked into a year-end annual defense policy bill signed into law by President Obama. 

Despite the opposition in some corners, Maloney remains steadfast in her belief that there should be a museum dedicated to documenting women’s role in American history, alongside others honoring African-Americans and American Indians.  

“There are some issues that should inherently be bipartisan; honoring the contribution of half of Americans to our country’s history should be one of them. I hope that my colleagues in Congress will continue to support this effort in that same spirit,” Maloney said.