Menendez shot back at Lee, saying that he was standing “in the way of the hopes and dreams and aspirations of seeing Americans of Latino descent having their dreams fulfilled and recognized.”
“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,” Menendez said. “I see them as part of the collective history mosaic that is coming together under the Smithsonian.”
Earlier this year, the House for the first time passed legislation that would create a Smithsonian museum devoted to Latino Americans. The Senate Rules Committee also approved the legislation, which is co-sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), unanimously. The House also voted overwhelmingly in February to pass legislation to create a women’s history museum. But Lee’s move drastically reduces the likelihood the bills will pass Congress this session.
Following Menendez, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) attempted to pass the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act in the Senate by voice vote. In her floor remarks, Collins highlighted the popularity of the Smithsonian’s African American and Native American history museums and noted that a bipartisan commission recommended the creation of a museum “showcasing the historic experiences and the impact of women” in the United States.
But Lee again blocked the measure.
The Utah Republican said that while “all racial, ethnic, religious groups in America are worthy of celebration, even to the extent of having their own museums,” he argued that in “many instances” those museums do not take federal dollars.
“There is a brand that comes along with the Smithsonian Institution and a lot of money that’s taken from the American people in the form of tax revenue,” Lee said. “And so as a result of that, the Smithsonian Institution has a unique role.”
Collins described Lee’s actions as a “sad moment.”
“I had hoped that we could proceed with both of these bills and pass them before the end of this year,” Collins said. “Surely in a year where we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, this is the time. … I regret that that will not occur this evening, but we will not give up the fight.”