House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called out the Trump administration’s decision to delay putting former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, calling it “an insult to the hopes of millions.”
“It is an insult to the hopes of millions that the Trump Administration is refusing to honor Harriet Tubman on our $20 bill,” Pelosi tweeted Thursday morning. “This unnecessary decision must be reversed.”
The bill’s new design replaced President Andrew Jackson, a slave owner who backed the removal of Native Americans, with Tubman, who freed hundreds of slaves as the “conductor” of the Underground Railroad and worked as a Union spy during the Civil War. It was set to be released in 2020 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
But in May, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced during a House Finance Committee hearing that there would be a delay in the redesign. He said the new bill would not be ready for release for at least eight years.
"The primary reason we’ve looked at redesigning the currency is for counterfeiting issues,” Mnuchin said when pressed by Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. “Based upon this, the $20 bill will now not come out until 2028.”
The updated design, in which Tubman would replace Jackson on the front of the $20 note and move Jackson to the back, was initially announced in 2016 by then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in the Obama administration. Trump, then a presidential candidate, called the decision "pure political correctness" and praised Jackson as “somebody that really was very important to this country." Trump suggested Tubman be put on the $2 bill or “another bill” instead.
But a month after Mnuchin’s announcement, the New York Times reported that the design was “completed in late 2016," after “extensive work was well underway,” possibly lining up perfectly with the timeline of when the bill was originally set to be unveiled in 2020.
In response, Mnuchin said in a statement that his “first responsibility is to ensure all security and anti-counterfeiting measures are properly taken in accordance with [the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s] mandates.”
“The suggestion that this process is being stalled is completely erroneous,” he said.
In a separate statement, Director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing Len Olijar said, “No Bureau or Department official has ‘scrapped’ anything; it is too early to develop an integrated concept or design until security features are finalized.”
“Everything remains on the table,” he added.
Nonetheless, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday — or Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. — requested that the Treasury Department’s inspector general open an investigation into the agencies involved in the design and its delay.
“We do not know the real reason for these decisions, but we do know that during his campaign, President Trump referred to efforts to replace President Jackson’s likeness on the front of the $20 note as ‘pure political correctness,’” Schumer wrote.
The Democratic leader called Mnuchin’s explanation for the delay “simply not credible,” considering “all the resources and expertise of the U.S. Treasury and Secret Service.”
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