Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, blocked separate bills Thursday seeking to create a National Museum of the American Latino and an American Women’s History Museum within the Smithsonian Institution.
Colleagues asked for each of the bills to be agreed upon by unanimous consent, but Mr. Lee spoke up to single-handedly prevent either proposal from passing.
“I respect what they are trying to do, and I even share their interest ensuring these stories are told,” Mr. Lee said on the Senate floor. “But the last thing we need is to further divide our already divided nation with an array of segregated, ‘separate but equal’ museums for hyphenated identity groups.
“At this moment in the history of our diverse nation, we need our federal government and Smithsonian Institution to pull us closer together, not pull us further apart,” Mr. Lee added.
Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and the son of Cuban immigrants, unsuccessfully tried to unanimously pass the bill establishing the American Latino museum thwarted by Mr. Lee.
Reacting to the Republican’s objection, Mr. Menendez accused Mr. Lee of denying tens of millions of Latinos whose heritage would be recognized at the museum while calling his logic into question.
Mr. Menendez also noted some museums currently run by the Smithsonian Institution — and thereby funded largely by the federal government — are devoted to distinct groups already.
“I don’t know if these arguments were made against the Native Americans. I don’t know if these arguments were made against African Americans, but I don’t see them as being separate and apart,” he said. “I see them as part of the collective history mosaic that is coming together under the Smithsonian.”
Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, subsequently asked colleagues to similarly agree by unanimous consent to pass a bill creating an American Women’s History Museum, but Mr. Lee opposed it, too.
“I think this is a sad moment,” Ms. Collins said after Mr. Lee shot down both bills. “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.”