WASHINGTON, June 8 - Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today visited a National Museum of American History gift shop that was just restocked at his urging with all made-in-America merchandise.
The Smithsonian Institution put all American products in the gift shop after Sanders questioned why the museum, which celebrates American history, sold busts of U.S. presidents and other items crafted in China and other countries.
Sanders saw the Chinese-made U.S. presidential busts when he went to the Smithsonian late last year looking for Christmas presents for his grandchildren. "I love the Smithsonian's great museums, but I was very upset to see so many products made in China and other countries."
Today, after touring the "Price of Freedom" gift shop with museum director Brent Glass, Sanders applauded the progress.
"Everybody understands that our middle class is hurting. We have lost millions of good manufacturing jobs in this country," Sanders said. "From the very beginning it made no sense to me that a museum owned by the people of the United States -- whose mission is to talk about our history and our culture - was not doing everything it could to buy products made in this county by American workers. We've got a lot more work ahead of us, but I think this is a step forward."
Standing at Sanders' side, the museum director told reporters, "We are happy to cooperate with this initiative. We think it's a great idea. We're very proud of this shop. We think it's going to be popular with our visitors."
"We're the first major museum in the country to have a gift shop exclusively devoted to made-in America products," Glass added. "We're very happy to have reached this point and we're going to continue finding new vendors around the country who produce products that are good for us to sell." The Smithsonian is seeking more American suppliers for the merchandise at other gift shops in all of its museums along the National Mall, including the Air and Space Museum, and the Natural History Museum.
Smithsonian executives told Sanders that so far 19 new American companies have been added to the list of vendors this year and altogether 62 new American-made goods are on sale, including U.S.-manufactured versions of the presidential busts that first stoked Sanders' concern.
While Sanders applauded the Smithsonian for making progress, he also voiced concern about some of the products still sold at the museum's main gift shop, including Rosie the Riveter towels made in China and Uncle Sam "I Want You" t-shirts made in Nicaragua. Similar American-made products are also for sale at the museum for similar prices, he noted.
Some 50,000 manufacturing plants in the U.S. were closed over the past decade, and more than 5.4 million good-paying manufacturing jobs were lost as companies took advantage of cheap labor overseas.