WASHINGTON — The Smithsonian Institution can start the process of building two new museums in Washington honoring the history of women and American Latinos after being included in Congress’ massive year-end omnibus bill.
Separate bills authorizing both museums passed the House this year as stand-alone measures but were unable to get through the Senate, so they were added to an omnibus spending and coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress late Monday to provide for easier passage.
The latter included the two bills authorizing the Smithsonian to build a Women’s History Museum and a National Museum of the American Latino.
The House passed the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act in February on a 374-37 vote and the National Museum of the American Latino Act in July via voice vote. On Dec. 10, Senate sponsors of both bills — including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who led the push for the women’s museum — tried to get the bills passed on the floor by unanimous consent.
But Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, objected, saying national museums should not be based on group identity. The Friends of the American Latino Museum issued a statement at the time calling Lee’s decision to block the bill “insultingly dismissive, condescending, and misguided.” After that, the sponsors turned their attention to the year-end bill.
“Each museum within the Smithsonian tells a unique part of the collective history of America, but there are still so many parts left to be told,” Collins and the other sponsors said in a letter last week.
House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, the lead sponsor of the women’s history museum bill in the House, said it’s fitting that Congress will authorize the museum in the year the United States elected its first woman vice president and celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
The bill offers two suggestions for where the museum could be built: the South 14 Monument site bordered by 14th Street and Jefferson Drive, Wallenberg Place and Independence Avenue, and the Northwest Capitol site bordered by Third Street, Constitution Avenue, First Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Those two sites are also among the suggestions for the American Latino museum. The bill offers two other possible sites: the Arts and Industries Building at 900 Jefferson Drive and the Agriculture Department facility bordered by 12th and 14th streets, Jefferson Drive and Independence Avenue.
The Smithsonian’s Board of Regents would be required under the measure to pay 50 percent of the costs of constructing each museum from federal funds. The rest would come from non-federal sources.
Story by Lindsey McPherson. CQ-Roll Call writers Michael Teitelbaum and Jennifer Shutt and BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.