Mnuchin delayed Harriet Tubman $20 bill even as design work was well under way, report says

Harriet Tubman, circa 1870

HB Lindsey | Underwood Archives | Getty Images

Design work on a Harriet Tubman $20 bill was already well under way when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said its release would be delayed from 2020 until 2028, The New York Times reported Friday.

Mnuchin delayed releasing the new bill out of concerns that President Donald Trump would create more controversy by canceling the bill, the Times reported, citing current and former department employees who declined to be named.

Mnuchin, in a statement released Friday, disputed the notion that the bill’s release was being held up and said that the timetable “has not been changed.”

“As Secretary, my 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,” Mnuchin said. “The suggestion that this process is being stalled is completely erroneous.”

Trump was a vocal critic of the plan to put Tubman on the $20 bill, which originated under President Barack Obama. While campaigning Trump called the move “pure political correctness.” He proposed putting her portrait on the $2 bill instead.

Tubman was a prominent abolitionist, who was born into slavery and escaped, and later helped liberate other slaves along the Underground Railroad. Trump has often praised President Andrew Jackson, who is currently displayed on the $20. Advocates have campaigned for Jackson’s replacement due to his policies persecuting Native Americans and other matters.

Mnuchin said in May that the bill was delayed because anti-counterfeiting measures would not be ready for a 2020 release in response to questions from Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., at a House Financial Services Committee hearing.

Before the delay, designers were “far along” in the process and had completed a preliminary design of the bill. They created digital images of it, and completed metal engraving plates for use in printing the bills, according to the Times, which cited a current employee of the bureau “who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.”

The plan to redesign the $20 bill with Tubman’s image on it was first announced by then-Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew in April 2016. The decision was driven by “thousands of responses from Americans young and old,” Lew said in a letter at the time.

“I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy,” Lew said.

Prior to Mnuchin’s announcement that the Tubman bill would not be introduced in 2020, members of Congress introduced legislation to back against what Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., called “needless foot-dragging” on the project by Trump’s Treasury Department.

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