The creation of new Smithsonian museums dedicated to Latinos and women can now move forward. Earlier this month, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) was the lone vote blocking legislation, saying "separate-but-equal museums" would "further divide an already divided nation." Supporters of both museums quickly moved to ensure the museums would be included in the $900 billion year-end spending package which was passed by Congress on Monday and now heads to President Trump's desk.
"Victory finally came today," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) wrote in a statement. Noting that a National Museum of the American Latino has been decades in the making, Menendez says, "We have overcome tremendous obstacles and unbelievable hurdles to get to this historic moment, but, as I've said before, Latinos are used to overcoming obstacles."
Estuardo Rodriguez, president of Friends of the American Latino Museum, tells NPR it's fitting that the museum is included in the coronavirus relief bill.
"With the Latino community on the frontlines of this pandemic, in the food service industry, agriculture, healthcare services and caring for the elderly ... Latinos and Latinas have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, suffering high rates of infection and death." He continues, "The legislation to create a museum serves to not only honor the past contributions of American Latinos for over 500 years, but recognize their sacrifices today."
The Smithsonian cannot build a new museum without federal legislation but both the Latino and women's museums have bipartisan support.
Celebrating the inclusion of a Smithsonian Women's History Museum in the omnibus spending package, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) writes that she is "thrilled that we are finally set to pass this historic legislation." She continues, "How fitting that we pass this bill as we mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment and in the year in which we elected our first woman vice president."
Similar to the financing of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the last Smithsonian museum built on the National Mall, the law requires costs be covered by a 50/50 split between public and private dollars. The Smithsonian's Board of Regents will be tasked with finding space for both museums on or near the National Mall.
Sen. Lee of Utah was one of six senators, all Republican, to vote no on the omnibus spending bill.