During his campaign, President Donald Trump was publicly accused by 15 women of groping, kissing or assaulting them against their will.
Now, New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney is on a mission to turn a president with a complicated legacy when it comes to women into a champion of their history.
The congresswoman from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, whose district includes Trump Tower, is personally lobbying Trump and his senior administration officials to support legislation that would create a Smithsonian museum dedicated to women’s history on the National Mall.
The museum is a longtime passion project for Maloney, who has, in recent weeks, been pressing the Trump administration hard for its support. In an interview, Maloney said she attended the congressional picnic hosted by the White House last month toting folders of material on the museum to hand out to the president’s top female advisors, and to Trump himself.
“I talked to Ivanka about it, I talked to Melania about it, I talked to Karen Pence about it, I talked to Kellyanne [Conway] about it,” Maloney said. “I handed it directly to the president and he said he would read it. I asked Kellyanne for advice on how to approach it. She said to talk to the president directly, she said she would not do it on my behalf.”
Maloney said she had another chance to bond with Conway on the dance floor last weekend at a star-studded party at Washington doyenne Lally Weymouth’s Hamptons summer home. “I thought, ‘Hey, this is my chance to lobby her,’” Maloney said of the party, which was also attended by George Soros, Steven Spielberg, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, among others. “I kept working her over.”
Conway, however, sounded noncommittal even in the face of Maloney’s hard sell about the need for a women’s museum, and for Trump’s personal support. “I admire her persistence and pledged we will review the materials and speak about it internally before raising it directly with the president,” she said.
Trump’s senior counselor nevertheless said she plans to raise the issue with the First Lady’s office and with Ivanka Trump—but added that she still has questions that need answering before she’d take it to the president. “The answer I seek is why President Obama did not support it and get it done in his eight years in office,” Conway said.
In 2014, President Barack Obama signed legislation—written by Maloney—establishing a commission to study the establishment of a women’s museum. But new legislation would have to pass before the project, which Maloney says would be privately funded, can take the next step forward.
Maloney’s pitch to the Trump crew is twofold: appealing directly to the president’s ethos as a builder, and trying to convince the women serving in Trump’s administration that supporting an American Museum of Women’s History would be a savvy P.R. move for a president with a checkered record on women’s rights.
“Coming from New York, he loves to build things,” Maloney said. “If you look at his career, it’s been more about building various establishments.”
A White House spokeswoman, Lindsay Walters, did not respond to a request for comment.
Even if Trump offers his seal of presidential approval, Maloney faces an uphill battle in turning her museum a reality. It took more than a decade from legislation being passed in Congress to the grand opening of the newest Smithsonian museum, the National Museum of African-American History & Culture. And so far, Smithsonian officials are skeptical of adding a women’s museum to its collection.
“Right now, we’re only ten months into our brand new African-American Museum, and our next big capital project is a complete revitalization of the Air and Space Museum, which will be $650 million,” said Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. “It would be very difficult for us to handle a new building right now.”
More feasible than a stand-alone women’s museum, St. Thomas said, was doing “a better job of telling the story of women’s history” across the existing museums.
Maloney is still pressing on. She’s whipped up 227 House members to sign onto her bill to create the museum, H.R. 19, numbered after the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate last week by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, with 11 co-sponsors.
The greenlight from the White House that Maloney needs would likely have been an easier get under a Hillary Clinton administration. The former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic nominee in May endorsed the museum idea, noting that “I look forward to the day when both my granddaughter and grandson can visit the National Women’s History Museum and come away feeling a little braver, walking a little taller, knowing they stand on the shoulders of generations of history makers and trailblazers.”
But Maloney is working the angles available to her. She has explicitly told White House officials, according to people familiar with the conversations, that championing a museum that celebrates the accomplishments of women could help the president rehabilitate a reputation damaged by incidents like the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, a video that showed him bragging about groping and kissing women against their will.
“I don’t understand him. The attack on Mika [Brzezinski] was beyond belief,” Maloney said, referring to Trump’s tweet last month that the Morning Joe co-host was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” while trying to score an interview with the president-elect at Mar-a-Lago last year.
Maloney said she and her House co-sponsor, California Republican Rep. Ed Royce, have sent a letter requesting a sit-down meeting with the president to discuss the museum.
Supporting a women’s museum might seem ironic to Democrats who painted Trump as a misogynist during the campaign and are troubled by his ongoing focus on women’s appearances. But it would be in line with how he sees himself, and how his family members and staffers have defended him. During the first presidential debate after the Oct. 8, 2016, release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, Trump told the audience: “I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.”
Representing the administration in Berlin at a women’s conference earlier this year, Ivanka Trump was forced to turn to her own experience when pressed on her father’s support for women.
“He encouraged me and enabled me to thrive,” Ivanka Trump said. “I grew up in a house where there was no barrier to what I could accomplish beyond my own perseverance and my own tenacity.” She noted that there was “no difference between me and my brothers.”
Defending the president after the Brzezinski tweet, Conway told Fox News: “This is a man who is doing what he can do on behalf of America’s women.”