The first $20 bills featuring Harriet Tubman were supposed to be unveiled in 2020, but on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the bill won’t be released next year after all — and most likely won’t be in circulation until 2026 at the earliest.
“It’s not a decision that is likely to come until way past my term, even if I serve the second term for the president. So I’m not focused on that for the moment,” Mnuchin reportedly said at a hearing before the House Committee on Financial Services.
Instead, Mnuchin claimed, he’ll focus on beefing up anti-counterfeiting measures. “It is my responsibility now to focus on what is the issue of counterfeiting and the security features,” he said. “The ultimate decision on the redesign will most likely be another secretary down the road.”
In 2016, then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that Tubman, an abolitionist who helped free enslaved people before the Civil War, would be on the $20 bill. She was slated to be the first woman on US paper currency since the 19th century, the New York Times reported at the time.
The redesign was supposed to be unveiled in 2020 in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, though the bills wouldn’t have entered circulation until later. (It’s worth noting that given the spate of anti-black voter suppression laws that were implemented across the country after the Civil War, it’s likely that Tubman would not have been able to vote in 1920.) The $20 bill redesign was part of a larger project to reimagine US currency by adding women and civil rights leaders to paper bills.
But now, according to the Times, senior Treasury officials think Mnuchin is pushing back the redesign to help President Trump, who has criticized the plan in the past, save face. Mnuchin decided to delay the redesign until Trump was out of office, sources told the paper.
On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump called the redesign “pure political correctness” and suggested that Tubman should instead be put on another, less popular bill, perhaps the $2 bill. “Andrew Jackson had a great history,” Trump said at the time, “and I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill.” (The redesign would have put Tubman on one side of the bill and Jackson on the other; he wasn’t going to be removed from the bill altogether.)
In a statement to Vox, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), who questioned Mnuchin at the hearing, criticized the treasury secretary’s decision. “Secretary Lew specifically directed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to unveil the final design concepts in 2020,” Pressley said through a spokesperson, “and ever since Secretary Mnuchin was appointed, the Treasury Department has completely disregarded their role in actualizing the diversity of our country. Representation matters and Secretary Mnuchin has the responsibility to see this through”
Steve Mnuchin blocking Harriet Tubman from being placed on the $20 bill is a move that panders only to racists and White Supremacists. Period.— Ricky Davila (@TheRickyDavila) May 23, 2019
The decision to block Harriet Tubman from the redesign of the $20 bill is callous and yet another attack on Black women.— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) May 23, 2019
No matter how hard they try, they can’t erase our central role in American history or wipe away the contributions of our Black heroes. #HarrietTubman https://t.co/PRWnfuC2ON
So, Trump thinks racist, slave-owning Robert E. Lee, who lead the confed army to crushing defeat, was a great general.— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) April 26, 2019
And, he thinks racist, slave-owning Andrew Jackson, whose “Indian removal program” eventually lead to the Trail of Tears, was a great prez.
See the pattern?
Mnuchin and Trump have been criticized for the decision. “The white supremacists running this country are not about to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill to have y’all contemplating racism and resistance every time y’all go to the ATM,” activist Bree Newsome Bass tweeted. Others have contrasted Trump’s disdain for the redesign with his affinity for Jackson, who was a slave owner and was responsible for the Trail of Tears, as well as his defense of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, whom he has previously referred to as a war hero.
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