“The so-called critical theory undergirding this movement does not celebrate diversity; it weaponizes diversity,” he said. “It sharpens all those hyphens into so many knives and daggers. It has turned our college campuses into grievance pageants and loose Orwellian mobs to cancel anyone daring to express an original thought.”
Addressing Mr. Menendez, he said that the history of Latinos and women should be a part of existing Smithsonian museums, and because those topics were not adequately represented there, that should be Congress’s focus, not building new institutions.
Mr. Menendez, fuming, was far from convinced.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Sixty million Latinos in this country are watching tonight because this is a much-expected moment. Univision, Telemundo, affiliates across the country, national organizations and others have been waiting for this moment — a moment that everybody in the Congress of the United States agrees to, except for one colleague.”
He argued that Latinos were just as entitled to their own cultural institution as African-Americans and Native Americans, to whom Smithsonian museums have been dedicated in recent years. When Mr. Lee said those groups had had their stories “virtually erased” by the government that sought to enslave or eradicate them, giving them a unique claim to dedicated federal facilities, Mr. Menendez said Latinos, too, had been “systemically excluded.”
Mr. Lee is not the first to raise concerns about the Smithsonian being fractured into multiple identity-based museums. That concern, along with budgetary ones, has been one of the main points of opposition to a Latino museum in recent years amid extensive lobbying campaigns in its favor.
But Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who tried to pass the bill creating a women’s history museum, lamented that “it seems wrong” for a single senator to subvert a clear majority that favored the institutions.
“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 unanimously recommended by an independent commission to establish an American women’s history museum in our nation’s capital,” Ms. Collins said. “I regret that will not occur this evening, but we will not give up the fight.”