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Today in the World’s Worst Deliberative Body


Leaving behind the question of whether the Senate should be debating new Smithsonian museums instead of working up a COVID-19 relief package, the fact that a single senator can hold up legislation to the point of effectively killing it for the time being is yet another sign of the worthlessness of the Senate as an governmental body. Of course, this serves the interests of the most racist and misogynist senators, which leads us naturally to Mike Lee.

For more than two decades, Latinos and their allies in Congress have been fighting to approve the creation of a National Museum of the American Latino in Washington. The push to create a national women’s history museum has taken about as long.

There have been studies and commissions, and this year, bipartisan bills authorizing their creation under the Smithsonian umbrella passed the House for the first time by overwhelming margins.

So on Thursday night, as their congressional term dwindles to just days, Republican and Democratic senators gathered on the Senate floor in hopes of capturing overwhelming support to push both over the finish line. Instead, their attempt set off a rare and tense debate in the halls of Congress — over what the nation’s museums stand for and the role of ethnic and gender identity in American life.

In the end, the objections of a single senator out of 100, Mike Lee of Utah, were enough to stop both measures and ensure that for now, their proponents will keep waiting. In a week where lawmakers have struggled, once more, to find agreement on stimulus money to help suffering Americans and small businesses, it was a fitting punctuation mark for an institution gripped with paralysis.

The dispute began shortly before dinnertime when Senators John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, and Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, tried to advance the legislation setting up the Latino museum on the National Mall. They lauded the history and contributions of 60 million Americans, and painted the creation of a museum as a proper and symbolically significant recognition in the nation’s capital of a diverse segment of Americans.

Mr. Lee, a conservative with libertarian leanings who often finds himself at odds with his colleagues and does not bend, quickly made his disapproval known on broad philosophical grounds.

“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,” Mr. Lee said. “It’s a matter of national unity and cultural inclusion.”

At least Lee managed to quote one of the most vile racists in American history in doing this.

I really don’t see any path back to Senate functionality. I don’t really see a clear path to this nation remaining a functional democracy either.

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