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House to vote on creation of Smithsonian Latino museum

House to vote on creation of Smithsonian Latino museum
© Greg Nash

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote later this month on a bill to create a Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino, a significant step forward in a quarter-century campaign.

The bill was placed on the House floor schedule for July 27 by Majority leader Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOn The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July House to consider anti-Asian hate crimes bill, protections for pregnant workers this month Top Democrat: Bill to boost Capitol security likely to advance this month MORE (D-Md.). It would compel the Smithsonian to begin an 18-month feasibility study for the museum, and to select a site location on the National Mall.

It would also trigger a search for funds by the museum's proponents, who under the bill would need to raise half of the museum's total cost, while the federal government would fund the other half.

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"This is the pivotal moment for the American Latino Museum campaign that has been in the works since 1994. It's not across the finish line yet, but we're very close," said Estuardo Rodríguez, president and CEO of Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino.

Setting up the museum would cost nearly $700 million, according to estimates by its proponents. The last museum built on the National Mall by the Smithsonian was the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which at the time of its opening in 2016 carried a bill of $540 million.

The Latino Museum bill is expected to pass easily in the House, as it currently has 295 bipartisan co-sponsors. It would then need to pass the Senate, where the legislation has top-level sponsors on both sides of the aisle, including former Majority Whip Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Cornyn is most prolific tweeter in Congress so far in 2021 Schumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel MORE (R-Texas), Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats cool on Crist's latest bid for Florida governor Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Fla.) and Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezJuan Williams: A breakthrough on immigration? Biden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 Bottom line MORE (D-N.J.).

“The upcoming vote is an important milestone towards the completion of the Latino Museum and I thank my colleagues in the House. I look forward to its passage later this month, and I hope our colleagues in the Senate will soon join us to make the Latino Museum a reality," said Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), who introduced the legislation.
 
"The building of a Latino Museum to honor the Hispanic community’s history and contributions to our nation is long overdue,” added Serrano, who is retiring at the end of this Congress.

Still, the museum's proponents are hedging their optimism, as the bipartisan initiative has suffered legislative setbacks since 1994.

The African American Museum was originally proposed in the 1920s, seriously considered in the 1970s, and only opened in 2016.

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If the bill passes both chambers of Congress, it will move to Trump's desk.

"This is an easy one for President TrumpDonald TrumpDemocrats, activists blast reported Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE. He can follow the work of [former President] George W. Bush, who signed the first Latino museum legislation into law in 2008," said Rodríguez.

The bill could show up on Trump's desk shortly ahead of an election in which the president is making a strong appeal to the Latino electorate.

"Clearly it's an opportunity for Trump to demonstrate his support for a complete telling of American history," said Rodríguez.

"The last thing we would ever want to do was send the message that this was just about the Latino community. This is about American history as a whole," he added.