Conservative Groups Urge Republicans to Oppose Women’s Museum, Republicans Don’t Listen

The bill passed with overwhelming GOP support, sending a clear message to outside conservatives.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) speaks to reporters after a news conference May 16, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
May 7, 2014, 1:50 p.m.

Con­ser­vat­ive out­side groups on Wed­nes­day urged House Re­pub­lic­ans to vote against le­gis­la­tion provid­ing a path for­ward for the Na­tion­al Wo­men’s His­tory Mu­seum, warn­ing that the mu­seum would “rep­res­ent the fem­in­ist ideo­logy” and would “glor­i­fy abor­tion.”

Con­ser­vat­ive groups Her­it­age Ac­tion, Susan B. An­thony List, Con­cerned Wo­men for Amer­ica, the Eagle For­um, and the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil all op­posed the wo­men’s-mu­seum le­gis­la­tion and pushed mem­bers to vote against it Wed­nes­day. Her­it­age Ac­tion even aler­ted Re­pub­lic­ans that a “yea” vote would count against them in the group’s an­nu­al rank­ings of con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers.

“Un­less the di­versity of opin­ion among Amer­ic­an wo­men about our own his­tory is af­firm­at­ively ad­dressed and safe­guarded by Con­gress, we urge you to op­pose what will without doubt be­come a shrine to lib­er­al ideo­logy, abor­tion, and lib­er­al ad­voc­ates,” sev­er­al of the groups wrote in a joint let­ter to mem­bers. “Wo­men must not be used as an ex­cuse to pro­mote a sys­tem of be­liefs that ul­ti­mately ex­ploits and harms us. Not on our watch.”

But the bill passed any­way with a 383-33 vote, and a hand­ful of nays changed their votes to sup­port the meas­ure at the last minute. The party makeup among those vot­ing in fa­vor was split al­most equally, with 191 Re­pub­lic­ans and 192 Demo­crats sup­port­ing the meas­ure. All 33 mem­bers who voted against the bill were Re­pub­lic­ans.

The mes­sage from the Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity to the out­side groups op­pos­ing the bill is clear: You’re not help­ing. As Demo­crats con­tin­ue to try to widen — or at least hold onto — the gender gap among voters this fall, Re­pub­lic­an op­pos­i­tion to a bi­par­tis­an le­gis­la­tion for a mu­seum cel­eb­rat­ing the ac­com­plish­ments of wo­men (just a few days be­fore Moth­er’s Day, no less) might not go over well at the polls in Novem­ber.

Rep. Mar­sha Black­burn, R-Tenn., who co­sponsored the mu­seum le­gis­la­tion, gave an im­pas­sioned speech in sup­port of the bill to Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers in their weekly con­fer­ence meet­ing Wed­nes­day morn­ing, ac­cord­ing to sev­er­al sources in the room, after col­leagues in­clud­ing Rep. Michele Bach­mann, R-Minn., sug­ges­ted they would vote against it.

Black­burn later re­leased a state­ment to the press say­ing that the mu­seum bill, which merely au­thor­izes a study to find a loc­a­tion for the mu­seum and es­tab­lish its mis­sion among oth­er things, would not cost any tax­pay­er money. She also poin­ted out that Bach­mann had ac­tu­ally once praised the work of the fledgling mu­seum’s staff. 

“Some crit­ics of this le­gis­la­tion have, in­cor­rectly, said that the bill would cre­ate a mu­seum that would por­tray wo­men as mono­lith­ic in their views on abor­tion as well as oth­er is­sues of con­cern to wo­men,” Black­burn said.

That seemed to con­vince many Re­pub­lic­ans in the con­fer­ence, who lined up to back the bill Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said that Black­burn’s in­volve­ment alone was enough to con­vince him that the mu­seum wouldn’t con­flict with con­ser­vat­ive pri­or­it­ies.

“It’s not as if Mar­sha Black­burn’s a dan­ger­ous lib­er­al,” he said, chuck­ling. “So I don’t think she’d be as­so­ci­ated with something that she didn’t think was go­ing to be pro­fes­sion­ally done and something that she thought would ul­ti­mately be­come some sort of bur­den to the tax­pay­er or some sort of polit­ic­al weapon. I think she’s try­ing to keep that from hap­pen­ing, quite frankly.”

Black­burn her­self is staunchly an­ti­abor­tion and even told Na­tion­al Journ­al earli­er this week that she doesn’t identi­fy as a fem­in­ist “at all.”

Eight­een of the 20 wo­men in the House Re­pub­lic­an con­fer­ence voted for the mu­seum bill, with Rep. Vicky Hartz­ler, R-Mo., join­ing Bach­mann in op­pos­i­tion.

Rep. Can­dice Miller, R-Mich., said op­pos­i­tion from out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups — and even some of her own col­leagues — con­cerned her. “Look, I’m a pretty con­ser­vat­ive per­son. I can’t even fol­low that train of thought,” she said. “It’s too con­vo­luted for me.”

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