SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee (R) blocked legislation to create Latino and women's history Smithsonian museums on Thursday, citing that the United States does not need "'separate but equal' museums for hyphenated identity groups."
Lee argued that by creating more Smithsonian museums was a larger issue than just funding and believes that the new museums "weaponize diversity" and will push people apart rather than unite them.
"The Smithsonian Institution should not have an exclusive Museum of American Latino History, or a Museum of Women’s History or a Museum of American Men’s History, or Mormon History, or Asian American History. American history is an inclusive story that should unite us," Lee said in his remarks.
Rather than create new museums, Lee argued that more exhibits or space should be dedicated at the Museum of American History, even if that means more funding is given to the museum to make it happen.
"Their stories are our stories. And they are stories that emphatically should be told by the Smithsonian Institution at the Museum of American History, period....But if American Latino or American Women’s history are being under-represented at the Museum of American History, that is a problem," he said.
In an in-depth segment on Fox 13’s Live at Noon, State Senator Luz Escamilla, a Democrat from Salt Lake City, explained why Lee’s move upset her.
“In the state that he represents, the vast majority of the ethnic and racial minority community at 15 percent is the Hispanic and Latino community. It's shocking,” said Escamilla.
Lee’s office declined to comment for this story other than referring us to his speech on the Senate Floor.
The senator's objections made it impossible to pass either bill under consensus rules. Senators might try to include them in a budget bill scheduled for a vote before the holiday recess. Otherwise, the museum’s supporters may have to go through the entire process again next year, when a new Congress is sworn in.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D) from New Jersey immediately expressed his disappointment in Lee's vote.
"The House of Representatives passed this on voice. The Rules Committee passed it on voice in a bipartisan manner. And tonight, one colleague stands in the way. One Republican colleague from Utah stands in the way of the hopes and dreams and aspirations of seeing Americans of Latino descent having their dreams fulfilled and being recognized," he said.
Other senators also expressed their disappointment that because of Lee's vote, the legislation would not proceed, they also said that the fight for more Smithsonian museums to represent other American groups is far from over.