Says creating “separate but equal” identity-based museums will further divide America.
Saying the country is too divided, Sen. Mike Lee on Thursday blocked proposals to create the National Museum of Latino Americans and the Museum of American Women’s History.
The bipartisan proposals sought to establish both museums under the aegis of the Smithsonian Institution. Lee said the creation of separate museums would lead to further division in America, and both groups would be better represented in the already existing Museum of American History.
“It’s not us and them. It’s just us. My objection to the creation of a new series of museums based on group identity is not a question of budgetary or legislative technicality. It’s a matter of national unity and cultural inclusion,” Lee said.
“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,” he added.
In opposing it, Lee said the creation of museums separated by race or gender would exacerbate the “cultural and identity balkanization” that has “turned college campuses into contests of grievances.”
“The Smithsonian Institution should not have an exclusive museum of Latin American history or a museum of women’s history or a museum of American men’s history or Mormon history or Catholic history. American history is an inclusive story that should unite us,” Lee said.
A spokesperson for Sen. Mitt Romney’s office told the Salt Lake Tribune that he supports the creation of the two museums.
Supporters of both bills had hoped to gain approval in a voice vote, but Lee took advantage of Senate rules and stopped them in their tracks. Both bills passed the House over the summer.
The bills would authorize the process of establishing museums, which would be funded through a split of public and private funds.
New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, the sponsor of the legislation to create the Latin Museum, was furious with Lee’s decision.
“It’s been a 20+ year journey trying to make this museum possible, and a fellow Republican is standing in the way,” Menendez said. “It’s quite outrageous.”
Republican Maine Senator Susan Collins said she was disappointed with Lee’s behavior.
“I think it’s a sad time. In a year when we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, surely now is the time to finally pass the legislation,” she said. I’m sorry that doesn’t happen tonight, but we won’t give up the fight.”
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ripped Lee on Twitter for wasting time on the issue instead of working on a COVID relief package.
“No movement on COVID in the Senate, but good to know that Utah Senator Mike Lee is spending his time today giving speeches on why Latinos shouldn’t have a national history museum and oh , while we’re at it, why shouldn’t it be a women’s history museum either,” she tweeted.
Friends of the American Latino Museum, the nonprofit organization advocating for the museum’s establishment, said in a statement Friday that they would not be discouraged by Lee’s action.
“We are extremely disappointed with Senator Mike Lee’s insulting, dismissive, condescending, and misguided decision to block our bill to establish a National Latino American Museum to commemorate and celebrate more than 500 years of Latino history and contributions. Americans to American History.”
The group said it would continue to work with members of Congress to revive the proposal before Congress adjourns next week.