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House passes bipartisan bill to create women’s history museum

The House easily passed legislation on Tuesday to establish a women’s history museum in the nation’s capital as part of the Smithsonian Institution.

The bipartisan 374-37 vote marked the biggest step yet of the decades-long effort by House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) to build a women’s history museum along the National Mall.

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where it also has bipartisan support. But neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) nor President Trump have committed to moving it forward.

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Maloney, who became the first woman to chair the House Oversight and Reform Committee in November, has been advocating for a women’s history museum since 1998.

“The journey of this moment started for me with a walk around the National Mall. I was looking at all the museums, and I saw them dedicated to air, space, spies, law enforcement, textiles, the postal service, arts. All enriching institutions. But I found myself asking, ‘Where are the women?'” Maloney said on the House floor before the vote.

“Unfortunately, women have been left out of the telling of our nation’s history,” she said.
 
Maloney began introducing legislation in 1998 to create a privately funded commission to study the idea of the museum. It wasn’t until 2014 that the bill became law.

The commission produced a report affirming the proposal for a women’s museum with recommendations for its construction and fundraising in 2016.

Maloney introduced a similar bill in 2017 to create a women’s museum, but it did not get a vote in committee or on the floor before the end of the last session of Congress.

Maloney said Monday that she will meet this week with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the co-sponsors of a companion bill in the Senate, about moving the legislation through the upper chamber.

While most House Republicans supported the measure on Tuesday, 36 of them voted against it, as did Independent Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.). The votes in opposition included Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who as conference chairwoman is the highest-ranking woman in House GOP leadership.

 
“Congresswoman Cheney represents Wyoming, where generations of women have demonstrated grit, determination, courage and leadership in building our great state. She believes women’s accomplishments deserve to be honored in an equal manner, alongside those of men, as part of our great national story,” a Cheney spokesperson said.
 
Six years ago, 33 Republicans voted against Maloney’s bill to create the commission to study the concept of a museum, citing concerns it would promote women who advocated for abortion rights and require taxpayer funding.

The legislation passed by the House on Tuesday includes a section authored by Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) about “ensuring diversity of political viewpoints in exhibits and programs.” It states that the museum should “reflect the diversity of the political viewpoints held by women of the United States on the events and issues related to the history of women in the United States.”


The commission’s report concluded that private funds should finance the museum’s construction, while the federal government would subsequently take over the costs of operation once it opens to the public.

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The legislation offers two potential sites for the museum. One would be near the Senate side of the Capitol, while the other would be on the National Mall close to the Washington Monument.

 
Efforts to establish national museums typically move slowly. Congress established the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2003, but that came long after Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) introduced legislation in the late 1980s to construct a stand-alone museum on the topic.
 
The museum ultimately opened in September 2016, after construction began in February 2012.
 
The House is slated to take a more divisive vote focusing on women later this week.

Lawmakers will vote Thursday on a resolution that would remove the deadline for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to constitutionally prohibit sex-based discrimination.

Virginia last month became the 38th state to ratify the ERA. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel recently argued in an opinion that the deadline to ratify the ERA has expired since Congress passed the proposed constitutional amendment in 1972.

 
—Updated at 3:54 p.m.

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