For more than 25 years, there's been an effort to establish a national Latino museum within the Smithsonian Institution's museum family. And that dream seemed closer to coming to fruition this week, with bipartisan legislation toward that end on the Senate table. Enter Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who blocked that legislation Thursday, as well as an act for a national women's museum. "The last thing we need is to further divide an already divided nation within an array of separate but equal museums of hyphenated identity groups," the GOP senator said after Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey tried to bring the Latino museum legislation to a voice vote, per Politico. "We need our federal government and the Smithsonian Institution itself to pull us closer together and not further apart." Lee did the same when GOP Sen. Susan Collins tried to get a voice vote on the women's museum.
Lee's take: These two museums shouldn't be stand-alones, but folded into the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The bills, which would've given the Smithsonian the green light to start location scouting and conducting feasibility studies, had seen wide support on both sides of the aisle. The Latino museum bill was co-sponsored by Menendez and GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, and the House had passed legislation on both. Part of Lee's reasoning on why Latinos shouldn't get their own museum, like the Native American and African American museums under the Smithsonian umbrella, is that the latter groups experienced systemic racism, notes NBC News. Menendez pushed back on that, noting Latinos have also "been systematically excluded" and accusing Lee of blocking "the hopes and dreams" of Latinos who have long wanted this museum. "This is a sad moment," Collins agreed. Advocates for the bills say they'll keep fighting to bring the two museums to life. (Read more Mike Lee stories.)