Lawmakers ask to include creation of Latino women’s history museums in year-end spending deal


A bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling on congressional leaders to include legislation that would create Smithsonian museums dedicated to Latino and women’s history as part of the government’s year-end spending package.

Legislation to maintain government funding last Friday, December 18 is expected to be unveiled as early as Tuesday. The bill is also expected to serve as a legislative vehicle for COVID-19 relief as it must be passed by Friday to avoid a government shutdown.

House and Senate members from both parties acknowledged the ‘delicate nature of the ongoing negotiations’ over the spending package, but argued that the largely uncontroversial museum proposals should be part of what should be the last major bill that Congress will pass this year.

“We believe this represents our last best hope to see these museums become a reality for millions of Americans who lack historical and cultural representation at the Smithsonian,” the lawmakers said. wrote in a letter to the House and Senate party leaders.

The letter was signed by Reps. Jose Serrano (DN.Y.), Carolyn Maloney (DN.Y.), Will Hurd (R-Texas), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), along with Sens. Bob Menendez (DN.J.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

The House passed versions of the bills to create the Latino and women’s history museums with bipartisan support.

The House passed a bill, authored by Serrano, to create a Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino by voice vote in July.

And in February, the House passed Bill 374-37 to create a women’s history museum that was championed for two decades by Maloney, the first woman to chair the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

But Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) blocked the legislation Thursday, arguing that creating new museums dedicated to such groups would exacerbate national divisions. He suggested he would support greater representation of Latinos and women within the existing Smithsonian Museum of American History.

“In the walls of a Smithsonian museum like the National Gallery of Art or in the great memorials that dot this city, there is neither us nor them. It’s just us. And so my objection to the creation of a new Smithsonian museum or a series of museums based on group identity, what Theodore Roosevelt called hyphenated Americanism, is not a matter of technicality budgetary or legislative. It’s a matter of national unity and cultural inclusion,” Lee said.

“I understand what my colleagues are trying to do and why. I respect what they are trying to do. I even share their interest in getting these stories told. But the last thing we need is to further divide an already divided nation into a collection of separate but equal museums of hyphenated identity groups,” Lee added.

A bipartisan group of senators on Monday unveiled a two-part $908 billion COVID-19 relief package with another round of Paycheck Protection Program relief for small businesses, unemployment insurance and the funding for schools and vaccine distribution while separating the more delicate issues of state and local government funding and liability protections for corporations in another measure.

It is unclear, however, whether congressional leaders will adopt the bipartisan proposal.

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