A lone Republican senator has blocked a congressional vote to create two new Smithsonian museums devoted to American girls and Latinos.
Casting his dissenting vote, Senator Mike Lee mentioned they’d “further divide an already divided nation”.
The laws acquired unanimous bipartisan help by the rest of the 100-member Senate.
Founded 170 years in the past, the Washington-based Smithsonian options 19 museums.
It boasts of being the “world’s largest museum, education and research complex,” with the most recent Smithsonian museum – the Museum of African American History and Culture – added in 2016.
A museum for Latino historical past has been being thought-about for a minimum of 20 years, after a authorities report discovered within the early Nineties that the Smithsonian “displays a pattern of wilful neglect” towards Latinos and “almost entirely excludes and ignores Latinos in nearly every aspect of its operations”.
A measure to create a girls historical past’s museum was launched within the early 2000s.
In his speech on the Senate ground on Thursday night time, Mr Lee – a Utah senator who leans libertarian – condemned politics primarily based on id – a subject that many conservative Americans have voiced objections to lately.
“My objection to the creation of a new Smithsonian museum or series of museums based on group identity, what Theodore Roosevelt called hyphenated Americanism, is not a matter of budgetary or legislative technicalities,” he mentioned. “It is a matter of national unity and cultural inclusion.”
Because the authors of the 2 museum payments had sought a unanimous vote of all 100 senators, every measure was struck down in its entirety by Mr Lee’s objection. Measures supporting the Latino museum and ladies’s museum had already been handed earlier this 12 months by the House of Representatives – the decrease chamber of Congress.
Mr Lee went on to say: “The so-called critical theory undergirding this movement does not celebrate diversity; it weaponises diversity.
“I perceive what my colleagues are attempting to do and why. I respect what they’re attempting to do. I even share their pursuits in making certain that these tales are informed. But the very last thing we want is to additional divide an already divided nation with an array of segregated, separate-but-equal museums for hyphenated id teams.”
In a following debate, Mr Lee argued that Native Americans and black Americans had their histories “nearly erased,” which was why Smithsonian institutions exist for them.
“We have been systematically excluded,” retorted New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, the author of the Latino museum bill.
“Believe me, we’ve been,” he added, accusing Mr Lee of standing “in the best way of the hopes and desires and aspirations of seeing Americans of Latino descent having their desires fulfilled and recognised”.
Latina Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a liberal Democrat from New York, was among those criticising Mr Lee. She noted that the debate over these two bills came as coronavirus stimulus relief bills continued to stall in the Senate.
No motion on COVID within the Senate however good to know Utah Sen. Mike Lee is spending his time at present giving speeches about why Latinos shouldn’t have a nationwide historical past museum and oh, whereas we’re at it, why there shouldn’t be a girls’s historical past museum both https://t.co/nJE4QnM7nl
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) December 11, 2020
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Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, who sponsored the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act, joined within the criticism of Mr Lee, calling it a “sad moment” and including that “it seems wrong” for a single senator to dam such fashionable measures.
“Surely in a year where we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, this is the time, this is the moment to finally pass the legislation,” she mentioned, referring to the centennial of girls’s proper to vote within the US.
Museum advocates say Mr Lee’s objection is only one of many roadblocks, and that different legislative avenues nonetheless exist to having the measures go.
Senators may nonetheless try to connect the museum measures to the 12 months’s extremely essential price range invoice, or in any other case reintroduce the measures when the brand new Congress convenes in January.
Even if the votes had handed, it will nonetheless be years earlier than constructing would start, as Congress would additionally must vote once more to allocate funds to the tasks.
Last week, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G Bunch III launched an announcement praising the 2 payments.
“Creating new museums is challenging, but, with appropriate funding, the Smithsonian has the skill and expertise to do it right,” he mentioned. “We can, and have, created museums that meet the needs of the nation and showcase the US to the world.”