Dec 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Sen. Mike Lee blocks proposals to establish Latino and women's history museums

Senator Mike Lee
Sen. Mike Lee. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

GOP Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) on Thursday blocked legislation to establish a National Museum of the American Latino and American Women's History Museum as part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Why it matters: The Smithsonian Institution operates more than a dozen museums and galleries, but none are dedicated to the contributions and history of Latino Americans and women.

  • The legislation had bipartisan support, and Lee's objections were immediately criticized by senators on both sides of the aisle.

What he's saying: "I understand what my colleagues are trying to do and I respect what they're trying to do. ... But the last thing we need is to further divide an already divided nation with an array of segregated, separate-but-equal museums for hyphenated identity groups," Lee said from the Senate floor.

  • "At this moment in the history of our diverse nation, we need our federal government and the Smithsonian Institution itself to pull us closer together and not further apart."
  • "American history is an inclusive story that should unite us."
  • Of note: The Smithsonian Institution includes the National Museum of African American History and Culture the National Museum of the American Indian.

Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) immediately slammed Lee for his objection to the legislation.

  • "The House of Representatives passed this on voice. The Rules Committee passed it on voice in a bipartisan manner. And tonight, one colleague stands in the way," Menendez said, adding that Lee's move was "outrageous."
  • "One Republican colleague from Utah stands in the way of the hopes and dreams and aspirations of seeing Americans of Latino descent having their dreams fulfilled and being recognized," he added.
  • Collins said that "surely in a year where we're celebrating the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage, this is the time, this is the moment to finally pass the legislation unanimously recommended by an independent commission to establish an American Women's History museum in our nation's capital."
  • "I regret that that will not occur this evening, but we will not give up the fight," she added.

Worth noting: A task force issued a report in 1994 that said the Smithsonian Institution "almost entirely excludes and ignores Latinos in nearly every aspect of its operations," per the New York Times.

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