Political News

Is Harriet Tubman on $20 Bill? Treasury Won’t Say

Posted June 5, 2018 8:42 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has tried to undo as many Obama-era policies as possible during his first 500 days in office, but his administration has remained curiously circumspect when it comes to one of his predecessor’s initiatives: putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.

In a letter to Congress that was released Tuesday, the Treasury Department praised Tubman, a former slave and abolitionist who is a civil rights hero, but made no commitment as to whether she would one day be the new face of the $20.

In 2016, former Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced that the currency was being redrawn, adding Tubman to the front and moving President Andrew Jackson to the back. The new designs were expected to be unveiled in 2020.

The letter, which was in response to a formal inquiry from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said Tubman’s “courage and persistence” were emblematic of America’s ideals and values.

But it did not say if she was still part of the redesign.

“The redesign of the next currency series is still in the early stages, and neither the final designs nor all features have been finalized for the new notes,” wrote Drew Maloney, the Treasury’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs. “For this reason, the department is unable to provide additional information regarding the potential designs at this time.”

It was also unclear when the redesign would be made public or be ready for circulation. Maloney said it would likely be more than 10 years before the new $20 note is released.

Shaheen took the response as a bad sign for the plan to put Tubman on the $20 bill.

“I am severely disappointed by the Trump administration’s failure to prioritize the redesign of the $20 bill to honor Harriet Tubman, and other trailblazing women and civil rights leaders,” Shaheen said in a statement. “Now that plan has been shelved without notice or reason.”

She added: “I’ll continue to press the Treasury Department to expedite the redesign of the $20 bill and keep its promise to the American people.”

A Treasury spokeswoman had no additional comment.

Lydia Washington, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which is overseen by the Treasury Department, said she had received no new guidance beyond that set forth by Lew. She said that the redesign process remained on schedule, but that the ultimate timeline would be dictated by the agency’s ability to design security features needed to prevent counterfeiting, and by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“The secretary of the Treasury approves all final currency designs,” Washington said. “Overall, the currency design process is complex, and significant testing is required for the notes and features to be production ready.”

Mnuchin has been cryptic about Tubman’s fate. The subject is sensitive, as Trump has expressed deep admiration for Jackson, a rich populist who appealed to working-class white voters when he was elected in 1828.

“People have been on the bills for a long period of time,” Mnuchin told CNBC in August 2017. “This is something we’ll consider. Right now we’ve got a lot more important issues to focus on.”

Speaking at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., in January, Mnuchin said he was still on the fence: “We haven’t made any decisions on whether we will change the bill or won’t change the bill.”

Images of Tubman, which were featured prominently on the Treasury Department’s website at the end the Obama administration, were removed when Trump’s Treasury Department overhauled its website last year.

The decision by Lew to add Tubman to the $20 came after months of public debate about putting a prominent woman on a commonly used note. Groups such as Women on the 20s launched grass-roots efforts to make the case that Tubman was the best choice to replace Jackson, a slave owner, and they continue to hope that the Trump administration will not reverse course.

“Their voices were heard and now they deserve to know whether and when their wishes will be realized,” the Women on the 20s group said.