In May, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the redesign of the $20 bill featuring abolitionist Harriet Tubman would not be unveiled in 2020 as previously announced. The delay, Mnuchin said, was due to security concerns and technical reasons. But the New York Times’ Alan Rappeport is reporting that according to Treasury Department officials, Mnuchin delayed the Tubman redesign to “avoid the possibility” that President Donald Trump “would cancel the plan outright and create even more controversy.”
Mnuchin, according to the Times, seems to believe that the president is so opposed to adding an image of Tubman to the $20 bill that he feared Trump might terminate the project altogether. And by delaying it, Mnuchin at least left open the possibility of the project going forward at some point in the future. Trump has been critical of the project, dismissing it as “pure political correctness” when he was campaigning for president in 2016 — he proposed featuring Tubman on $2 bills instead.
Mnuchin, however, is denying the allegation that the delay came about in order to avoid offending Trump. Last week, the Treasury Department secretary told the New York Times, “Let me assure you, this speculation that we’ve slowed down the process is just not the case.”
A Treasury Department employee, who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity, told the Times that he or she personally viewed a digital image of the Tubman $20 bill while it was being examined by engravers and U.S. Secret Service officials as recently as May 2018 — and the Tubman redesign process, according to the Times’ source, appeared to be far along at that point.
The proposal to replace President Andrew Jackson with Tubman on the $20 bill came from Jack Lew, who served as Treasury Department secretary during President Barack Obama’s second term.
In May, Mnuchin announced that the Tubman version of the $20 bill wouldn’t be unveiled until 2028 — long after Trump is out of office. Mnuchin, during a House Financial Services Committee last month, told Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, “The primary reason we have looked at redesigning the currency is for counterfeiting issues.”
Tubman was a key figure in the civil rights struggle in the United States. Born in Dorchester County, Maryland in 1822, Tubman was a slave until the 1840s and battled slavery via the Underground Railroad (a network of secret routes and abolitionist safe houses). And after slavery was abolished in the U.S., Tubman made women’s suffrage a high priority. Tubman was in her early 90s when she died in 1913.
This week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, wrote a letter to Mnuchin asking him to find a way to accelerate the release of the Tubman $20 bill. Hogan wrote, “I hope that you’ll reconsider your decision and instead join our efforts to promptly memorialize Tubman’s life and many achievements.”