Nothing is more dangerous than a political wing that refuses to give space to history.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee single-handedly blocked bipartisan approval of two new national museums to honor Latinos and American women, arguing that “the last thing we need is to further divide an already divided nation,” according to the Associated Press.
On Thursday, Lee opposed creating the two museums proposed by the Smithsonian, stalling two projects that have been in development for decades with support from both political parties.
The standoff occurred amid negotiations over a new coronavirus relief bill and demonstrated the political incongruence in the country and the impossibility of organizing priorities within Congress.
Although his Republican colleagues voted in favor of the bill, Lee decided to stall an initiative that had been going on for more than 25 years.
“Many Americans simply aren’t aware of the vast contributions made by these men and women who have come before us, and one critical way we can right this wrong is by providing a home for their stories in the nation’s capital,” Texas Senator John Cornyn said.
Objecting, Lee countered that point, saying the creation of museums that celebrate individual groups “weaponizes diversity.”
“Especially at the end of such a fraying, fracturing year, Congress should not splinter one of the national institutional cornerstones of our distinct national identity,” Lee said, adding that such national division “has turned our college campuses into grievance pageants and loosed Orwellian mobs to cancel anyone daring to express an original thought.”
Lee similarly objected to Rep. Sen. Susan Collins’s legislation to create a national women’s museum. Collins said it was a “sad moment” and that she had hoped the bills would move before the end of the year. She said she would not give up the fight.
“Surely, in a year where we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, this is the time, this is the moment,” Collins said.
Lee said he sees an exception for museums dedicated to American Indians and African Americans that already sit on the National Mall. He said those groups were “essentially written out of our national story and even had their own stories virtually erased” by the U.S. government; therefore, it is “uniquely appropriate that the federal government provide the funding to recover and tell those communities’ specific stories today at dedicated museums in the specific context of having been so long excluded.”
For its part, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent a letter Monday to House and Senate leaders urging them to include the National Museum of the American Latino Act, HR 2420, in the $1.4 billion spending bill that Congress is trying to agree on to avoid a government shutdown.
As explained by NBC News, the bill is only the beginning for the museum, but it is a first step in circumventing Senator Lee’s blockade.
“Latinos have contributed significantly to America’s success while overcoming systemic discrimination, and our stories have been largely erased from U.S. history,” said Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, who is completing his term as caucus chairman. “The fact that Mike Lee, a United States senator, has no knowledge of the Latino experience further demonstrates the need for a Latino museum.”